Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bourbon Glazed Salmon

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of joining Culinary Institute of America trained personal chef Dante Giannini while he prepared one of his famous "farm to fork" seasonal meals. With a resume that includes kitchen time at Aquagrille and Oceana, its no wonder that as a private chef, Dante specializes in fish. For our meal, he chose salmon for the main course. "Salmon is so underrated," he confided me as he knived portions of the fleshy, red fillet. "People now equate salmon with unoriginality. But there's really nothing better than a salmon done right."

I completely agreed. Sometimes I almost feel a guilt complex for going with salmon at the fish counter—with so many lesser known seafoods, must I choose the safe option, again? Which is inevitably followed by a second hurdle: how to distinguish which varieties are sustainable. So, below I have provided a mini-guide courtesy of Seafood Watch to help you pick your next salmon cut, mindfully ecological and guilt-free. Then, you can make this wonderful Bourbon Glazed Salmon.

In general, wild salmon from Alaska is your best bet. With strict monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery, most wild-caught Alaskan salmon is certified sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Market names include chinook, coho, chum, keta, king, pink, red, silver, & sockeye salmon. Other “best choice” selections are Washington sockeye salmon and farmed U.S. coho salmon. Good alternatives include wild-caught salmon from British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington. To avoid: salmon farmed in open net pens. Hailing from Chile, Scotland, and Norway, this farming method allows waste from the fish to pass freely into the surrounding habitat, polluting the wild environment and potentially spreading diseases and parasites.

Once you've selected your sustainable salmon, get excited! Because this recipe rocks. It combines the classic ingredients of an Asian teriyaki (soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds) with the oaky, caramel goodness of one of my favorite spirits, bourbon. The sauce is super light—notice there is no oil at all—but glazes expertly atop the salmon steak, leaving a delicate, golden coat of flavor permeating the tender, pink fish.

Obviously, the more the fish marinates the more saturated it becomes with the bourbon glaze, so the earlier you can start this step the better. However, the flavors are bold enough that even a cursory soak will highlight the robust flavors: spicy ginger, biting bourbon, tangy lime. With summer's official kick-off coming up this Memorial Day weekend, feel free to try this guy on the grill too.

Bourbon Glazed Salmon
Serves 4

3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
Cooking spray
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-lock plastic bag. Add fish to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 1 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish and marinade to the pan; cook for 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. (Alternatively, bake in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes until the same flaky consistency is reached.)

3.  Remove fillets from pan (do not discard marinade), and place each one on its own plate. Drizzle each serving with 2 teaspoons of sauce from the pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon scallions and 3/4 teaspoon sesame seeds.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans

For the past month, I have embarked on my weekly visit to the Union Square Greenmarket with crossed fingers in high hopes that spring's signature vegetables will make their season debut. Unfortunately, this hope remains wishful thinking: while flowers and herbs are generously displayed in colorful abundance, the vegetable crop remains winter-blue dismal: root vegetables, onions, apples. Calling all local asparagus and spring peas: where art thou?

So last Saturday—rather than exhale my usual sigh of disappointment and trek two blocks south to Trader Joe's—I made a point to pay special attention to the non-vegetable vendors at the Greenmarket; mainly, the meats. Local meal, I will find thee! As I perused the different tents—ranging from commonplace chicken and turkey to more obscure pheasant and venison—I began to notice a curious theme: the Union Square Greenmarket was teaming with hand-made sausages. Antibiotic, nitrate and hormone-free, the sustainable meat was creatively packaged in fun varieties too. For example, one chicken vendor mixed apples and pistachios along with his ground poultry.

In the end, it was Catskill Merino Lamb whose sausage won me over. Boasting a range of unique varieties such as spicy Moroccan (which I sampled, ah-MAZ-ing), red pepper and fennel, and fennel and garlic. As I ooed and ahhed over my succulent bite of juicy lamb sausage, I noticed some vibrant batches of broccoli rabe at the vendor next door and knew at once my meal had been found. Dinner tonight, aka Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans, was born.

This recipe explains why the use of local, in-season ingredients always makes for a superior meal. Simplicity and freshness at its finest, the pasta boasts only three additions: sausage, broccoli rabe and cannellini beans. Yet when tossed in a light broth saturated with garlic, chicken broth, white wine and fresh rosemary (a farmers market purchase, too!), the dish becomes alive with the sum of its parts. Sure, it's basic and quick, but hits that sweet spot of homey and hearty that everyone craves in a fresh pasta dish.

Using a single pan is not only convenient for clean-up here, it also serves to enrich the flavor of the lamb. By cooking the sausage in the same skillet as the white wine and herb reduction, the lamb's pan drippings fold into the sauce; simmering along with the rest of the liquid. (Yep, spoon it straight out of the pan. It's that kind of dish!)

So even though our classic spring vegetables may not have arrived on the farmers market scene just yet, I am happy to report that a local, robust meal can be easily put together nonetheless. Asparagus and peas, I'll catch you later. Sausage takes center stage for now!

Pasta with Lamb Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Beans
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup defattened reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp fresh minced rosemary
3/4 pound pasta (preferably orecchiette; whole-wheat penne or fusilli)
1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 1.5 pounds), cut into rough 1-inch pieces
1 lb lamb, chicken, or turkey sausage
Parmesan cheese
Hot red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper & salt

1. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil and cook sausage over medium-high heat, turning until all sides are nicely browned, 5-10 minutes. Remove from skillet (don't worry about it being done) and cut into bite-sized pieces. Return to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked-through and golden.
2. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the pan, leaving the pan drippings. Place into a large bowl.
3. Reduce heat to low, and add garlic, cooking for one minute. Stir in the broth, wine, beans, rosemary, and hot pepper flakes (1/4 tsp for gringos, 3/4 tsp for heat-lovers.) Simmer, uncovered, until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until almost al dente, about 9 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until the broccoli rabe is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes more. Drain well.
5. Pour the pasta and broccoli rabe into the large bowl, and toss with the sauce. Add cheese, salt & pepper, and extra hot red pepper flakes to taste. Toss again and serve immediately.