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Archive for the ‘Scandinavian’ Category

A bluefish spoke to me the other day.

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I was walking through the Greenmarket, thinking only of fruit and vegetables, when I saw the above creature on display at Blue Moon Fish, a stand that sells excellent fresh fish and shellfish caught in the waters off eastern Long Island.

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I stopped. I looked at the bluefish. It looked at me. It murmured of long-ago early-fall days when Tom and I occasionally trolled for its relatives in and around the Shinnecock Inlet, in my parents’ runabout boat. It also reminded me that one thing we did when we caught any (not too often, I confess) was make gravlax of them. Well, for old time’s sake, I decided to do that again.

I bought two ¾ pound fillets and a big bunch of fresh dill, brought them home, and looked up the two recipes on which we’d originally based our technique: one for salmon gravlax from The Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, the other for bluefish from a very old Food & Wine Magazine clipping.

Both recipes wanted fillets that had skin on them. Mine didn’t, but I hoped that wouldn’t make too much difference. I patted a dry mix of salt, sugar, and coarsely ground pepper into both sides of the fillets; sprinkled on a few drops of grappa (as a substitute for aquavit); and sandwiched them together with a heap of dill sprigs.

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I covered their dish with foil, weighted it with a platter and several cans from the pantry . . .

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and put it in the refrigerator for two days. Then I took it out, reversed the position of the two fillets and their greenery, and returned the contraption to the refrigerator for another two days.

When the gravlax was ready to eat I scraped off the seasonings, and Tom gallantly offered to slice it for me. That was not easy: The flesh was very soft but there were some thin sinews that tried to defy the knife. It might have worked better if the fillets had still been on their skin. Many of the slices came out rather ragged, but they eventually capitulated.

As accompaniments, I’d made a mustard-and-dill sauce and a cucumber relish, both recipes from the Scandinavian cookbook, and I’d baked cocktail-sized white bread for toasts.

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These made a very tasty combination. The bluefish had a gentle flavor and a texture halfway between sushi and pickled herring. The mustard sauce spiced up each bite, and the slightly sweet cucumbers made a crisp contrast. Two of us couldn’t eat all the gravlax, of course, so I tucked the rest into the freezer. A few days later, with guests, we had it again on canapés. This time Tom chopped the fish so it would be neater for biting into the toasts, and I made fresh batches of the mustard sauce and cucumber relish. They were quite delicious little nibbles.

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Almost made me want to rent a boat and fishing tackle, to stalk the wily bluefish in its own element again! But, practically speaking, I guess I’ll just keep patronizing Blue Moon.

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I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the rösti potatoes that accompanied the rack of lamb in the Patrick O’Connell menu that I wrote up two weeks ago. Rösti is a Swiss version of potato pancakes, and they should have been better than ours were. I decided to look at some other recipes for them.

The Swiss style is usually, though not invariably, made with previously cooked potatoes. Other versions don’t precook them – just grate them up raw. But techniques and ingredients vary, and some that I’ve tried make fairly leaden cakes. The one best recipe I’ve used (about which more later) is quite complex.

So when I came across a totally simple Swedish recipe for Lacy Potato Pancakes with Chives Rårakor med Graslök) in the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I wondered if it could possibly be good. It is.

It starts with coarsely grating baking potatoes into a bowl, keeping all the liquid they exude. That was curious, I thought, because many other recipes say to squeeze the grated potatoes very dry. With no other ingredients but salt, pepper, and chopped chives, wouldn’t all that moisture just make the cakes fall apart in the pan? (The squeeze-dry recipes all add egg and flour to the mixture.) It didn’t. Of course, that moisture contains potato starch, which seems to be enough to bind.

The cakes are put in a hot pan with butter and oil, flattened out enough to cook the potatoes on the inside by the time the outsides are crisp and golden. Quick, easy, and delicious.

Why am I so surprised by this? Well, as I said above, I’ve suffered through a lot of soggy potato pancakes in my time. Some recipes even call for Yukon Gold potatoes, which are completely wrong. You need mealy baking potatoes – and if you can ever find Green Mountains, a very old, wonderfully tasty Maine variety, use them by all means.

The only potato pancake recipe I’d been happy with up to now is a much more complicated Polish one (Racuchy) from another volume in that Time-Life series, A Quintet of Cuisines. This recipe grates potatoes and onion into a sieve set over a bowl. You press the solids hard to extract as much liquid as possible and put the potatoes and onion into another bowl, adding an egg yolk, flour, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, in the first bowl, a layer of potato starch will have sunk to the bottom of the liquid. You carefully pour off the water and add the starch to the potato mixture. But you’re not done yet. Beat an egg white to firm peaks and fold it in, along with chopped parsley. Then at last you sauté the cakes in hot oil. They are also delicious, with an excellent texture.

So I’m glad to now have two strings to my potato-pancake bow: one for days when I feel like cooking elaborately, and one for days when I need something quick and easy.

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