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RECIPE: A Simple Salmon Dinner & The History Of Oven Cooking

Salmon With Herb Butter

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Poached Salmon

[1] Spoon the herb butter sauce over the fillet. [2] Plated with a butter lettuce salad (recipes below). [3] With kale and baby potatoes (all photos courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco).


Last night we had guests over for a simple salmon dinner. It was an impromptu event: Our fishmonger had a sale on wild-caught salmon and we decided it would be a “salmon weekend.”

We adore complicated recipes in the right hands. When we dine out, it is usually to have food from gifted chefs whose technique to make it surpasses anything we could hope to achieve.

But at home, we tend to keep things simple. The best ingredients, simply prepared to show them off, create the best meals.

While many people say they can’t cook fish well, baking it is pretty fool-proof (as it is tossing a marinated fish on the grill, if you have one).

This easy recipe from Good Eggs, bakes the salmon in a slow oven (see the chart below), to “gently coax out the salmon’s delicate flavor.”

Add a simple green salad and a steamed fresh vegetable and you’ve got a delicious dinner. Everything will be ready in 35 minutes.

The best wine pairings are chosen by preparation, not by ingredient. A classic wine pairing for salmon baked in butter sauce is Chardonnay/White Burgundy. You can also serve rosé or a sparkling wine.

We served a luscious Pinot Gris* from our favorite Alsatian producer, Zindt-Humbrecht, and a Grüner Veltliner (a superb Austrian white) from Pichler. Sauvignon Blanc is another favorite.

Red wine is typically paired with a meatier preparation, such as grilled or blackened salmon. But if you only drink red, a light Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy, Gamay/Beaujolais, or Valpolicello Classico will work.


Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 1 pound fresh salmon
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 handful† basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for the salad
  • 2-3 tablespoons red onion, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    For The Salad

  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Butter Lettuce, leaves washed and trimmed (or lettuce of choice)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Additional salad ingredients as desired
    *Pinot Gris is a white wine grape now planted around the world, but originally known by the wines from Alsace, France. Pinot Grigio is Italian for the same grape. Pinot Blanc is very similar: Both grapes (Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc) are mutations of Pinot Noir. Alsatian Pinot Gris tends to be a more finely crafted wine. While there are fine Pinot Grigios, much of what is sold in the U.S. is a lighter, mass-market wine.

    †A handful is one of those imprecise measures that says: Use how much you want. More or less of the ingredient is not critical to the recipe’s outcome.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F. While it heats, make a simple herb butter by combining the basil leaves with the butter. If you have other herbs in the kitchen—parsley, tarragon, etc.— feel free to add them also.

    2. PLACE the salmon fillet(s) on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season it lightly with salt and pepper, and scoop a few dollops of herb butter over it. Then bake it for about 30 minutes, until it is just barely firm to the touch. While fish bakes…

    3. MAKE the salad dressing. Place the onion in a bowl, cover it with the vinegar and let sit for about 15 minutes. Then whisk in the olive oil with, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. When fish is done…

    4. REMOVE the fish from oven and let it rest for a minute as you make the salad. Toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette, sliced avocado and a few torn basil leaves; serve with a big piece of salmon and a glass of nicely chilled wine.

    When early man mastered the creation of fire, food was cooked in pits dug into the ground, over flame-heated stones, and then—with the invention of cooking vessels—suspended over fires. Cooking was at best imprecise, but so was all of life back then.

    When nomadic man settled into agricultural communities, an outdoor or indoor fireplace could be constructed; an indoor fireplace also provided heat in colder climates. All cooking was still approximate in terms of how large a fire was needed, and how long to cook the food. In those days, food was sustenance rather than cuisine. Fire was used to make tough foods more chewable.

    In earlier times before ovens had sophisticated temperature controls, it was a challenge for cooks to make temperature-sensitive recipes. Even in recipes from the early 20th century, you’ll find directions like “cook in a slow oven for 2 hours or until meat is tender.”

    Today, ovens have precise temperature controls and those general times have been converted to degrees. For example, a “moderate oven” is 350°F to 375°F.

    This history of ovens is adapted from an article in Smithsonian Magazine by Lisa Bramen.

    Before ovens, there was cooking over an outdoor fire (think campfire) or an indoor fireplace and chimney with pots suspended over a wood fire.

  • Ancient Ovens: Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Jews and other peoples baked their bread in a wood-fired stone or brick oven—the same general format used for today’s wood-fired pizza ovens.
  • Cast Iron Stoves With Ovens: Over the centuries, brick ovens were refined to contain a door—the only way to regulate heat. Wood-fired cast iron stoves appeared in the mid-1700s, but still there were no gauges. To bake a cake or other heat-sensitive recipe, ovens were “regulated” by burning the right amount of wood to ash. Bakers stuck their hands inside the oven to feel the temperature, adding more wood for heat or opening the door to let the oven cool to what seemed like the right temperature.
  • Gas Ovens: The first recorded use of gas for cooking was by a Moravian named Zacchaeus Andreas Winzler, a German-born inventor living in Moravia (now the Czech Republic) in 1802. It took another three decades for the first commercially produced gas stove, designed by Englishman James Sharp nine 1834. The stoves became popular by the end of the 19th century. They were easier to regulate and required less upkeep than wood or coal stoves, the ashes of which had to be swept out often—a dirty job.
  • Electric Stoves/Ovens: Home electricity came into use at the end of the 19th century. In 1892, an early electric stove and oven was manufactured by Thomas Ahearn, a Canadian electric company owner.

    Oven Temperature Chart

    Pot Over Campfire

    Ancient Pompei Oven

    Iron Stove

    [1] Slow oven? Fast oven? Here’s what it means (chart courtesy Wikipedia). [2] After fire was invented, man could have a campfire with a simple spit to hold the food, until flameproof cooking vessels (clay pots) were invented. The oldest pot found is from China and dates to 20,000 B.C.E., at the height of the Ice Age, long before the beginnings of agriculture (photo with a contemporary pot courtesy [3] An oven in Pompei (photo courtesy [4] A Victorian cast-iron oven: still wood-fueled, no temperature dials (photo courtesy

  • The Microwave: In 1946, Percy LeBaron Spencer, an engineer for the Raytheon Corporation, was doing research on microwave-producing magnetrons when he discovered that the chocolate bar in his shirt pocket had melted. He experimented further and found that microwave radiation could cook food more quickly than gas and electricity. Raytheon’s Amana division released the first consumer microwave oven in 1967. The high price and [unfounded] fears about radiation took another decade for adventuresome consumers to adopt.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Sashimi Rolls

    You may not have great sushi chops—it takes years of training—but you can make a sashimi roll, as long as you have a sharp knife.

    What’s a sashimi roll? It’s sashimi ingredients wrapped in another piece of fish, a cucumber wrap, even nori (toasted seaweed). As long as there’s no vinegared (seasoned) rice, it’s not sushi.

    Some sushi and sashimi basics:

  • Sushi is vinegared rice with raw fish (including shellfish) and related ingredients: cooked proteins (octopus, salmon skin, shrimp), roe/caviar (ikura, masago, tobiko), sliced omelet (tamago), tempura (deep fried), raw wagyu, etc.
  • Su means vinegar and shi means rice; so sushi can be anything served with vinegared sushi rice. It can be fish placed on a bowl of rice (chirashi sushi), pressed into a box of rice and cut into rectangles), stuffed into a tofu pouch (imari) and so on. The common ingredient: vinegared rice. If we’ve said this too often, it’s because it’s an important distinction.
  • Sashimi is raw fish (often including tamago). It can be sliced, chopped (like yellowtail and scallion roll, negi-hamachi), chopped and sauced (spicy tuna or salmon roll), served in an oyster shell (or on top of the oyster), etc. You can also make “crudité sashimi” by wrapping lengthwise-sliced vegetables in a piece of fish, creating a vertical bundle fastened with a pick.
  • Naruto roll is a sushi-sashimi fusion: a roll with no rice. It is stuffed only with different fish, roe, vegetables, crab salad, etc. Naruto also refers to little the small pieces of food that float in soup, ramen, etc: fish cake, seaweed, scallions, tofu cubes, etc. Most people refer to naruto as sushi because it is rolled; but since it has no rice, we call it a sashimi roll. (Note: Slicing an entire cucumber in thin, continuous roll has got to be the hardest task in sushi preparation.)
  • Tamago, a sweetened omelet cooked in a rectangular pan, can be served in any of these preparations. It is neither fish nor vegetable nor dairy (from a mammal’s milk), but is considered an animal by-product.

    The slices of raw fish can be:

  • Arranged artistically on a plate, usually with some vegetable garnish (daikon, shredded radish; shiso, beefsteak leaf, etc.)—the traditional presentation.
  • Placed over a base, such as avocado or salad (if placed over vinegared rice it’s chirashi sushi).
  • Used to top fried tofu, raw or fried oysters, etc. (especially roe and chopped preparations).
  • Wrapped around a core of of crab or other salad, cucumber matchsticks, avocado, etc.

    We adapted the bottom photo idea from Herringbone restaurant in Santa Monica. That roll mounds albacore tuna sashimi over an avocado half, with a garnish of ginger, tobiko, sambal* and sprouts.

    You can use whatever fish looks best in the market, and customize your dish with as many garnishes as you like. They don’t all have to be on top of the sashimi; you cam artistically scatter them around the serving plate.

  • Base: avocado half, chopped salad, cooked fish, endive or radicchio, hearts of romaine, mesclun, whole grains (cooked), etc.
  • Fish: sashimi-quality fish of choice, sliced thin enough to drape.
  • Garnish: citrus zest, chopped chives or scallions, cress, fresh herbs, grated daikon and/or carrot, microgreens, minced garlic, minced red jalapeño, salmon or flying fish roe (caviar), raw or toasted sesame seeds.
  • Dressing or sauce: flavored olive oil† with lemon or lime juice, ponzu sauce (recipe) rice vinegar vinaigrette.

    1. PREPARE the salad base. If using an avocado, don’t slice or peel it until you’re ready to plate.

    2. DRESS the base with vinaigrette or olive oil and lemon/lime. If using an avocado, place it plate side down and drizzle the dressing over it.

    3. MOUND the base onto each plate into an oval. Cover with the sashimi strips. Garnish as desired and serve.

    *Sambal is a hot relish commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. There are many varieties, using different fruits or vegetables, different spices, and different levels of heat.

    † Basil-, chili-, chive-, citrus- and rosemary-infused oils are all good here.


    Sashimi Deluxe

    Naruto Roll

    Salmon Sashimi Roll

    Rainbow Roll

    Sashimi Roll

    [1] Sashimi at Haru | NYC with a naruto roll at the lower right. [2] Naruto roll, with ingredients wrapped in a thin roll of cucumber—at Tamari Restaurant in Pittsburgh. [3] Salmon sashimi roll: crab salad wrapped in a slice of salmon and topped with spicy salmon (photo courtesy [4] This Rainbow Roll from Blue Ribbon Sushi is a sushi roll covered with sashimi, but it’s still sushi, with vinegared rice. [5] Fish over a bed of guacamole at Herringbone Restaurant.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Summer Marinades For Fish

    Grilled Fish In Grilling Basket

    Grilled Fish In Grill Pan

    Grilled Fish Fillets

    Top and Center: Fish, especially fillets, is delicate and thus easier to break and fall through the grates, unlike meats. The solution: a grill basket or grill pan, like these from Williams-Sonoma. Bottom: A different type of grilling basket from Sur La Table.


    Summer begins today, officially at 6:34 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. It’s the day when the sun reaches its northernmost point over the equator, the highest point of the year, the longest day of the year with the most hours of sunlight.

    Just as most of us switch to heartier fare in the fall and winter, summer warmth is an incentive to eat more lightly.

  • Iced coffee and tea instead of hot.
  • Fruit salad and fruit soups.
  • Summer fruits—berries and melons—instead of the citrus and apples of winter.
  • Fruit salad and fruit soups.
  • Corn on the cob and grilled vegetables.
  • Gazpacho and other chilled soups instead of hot soup.
  • Grilling instead of frying and roasting.
  • Macaroni and potato salad sides.
  • White wine and sangria.
  • Saison summer ales and wheat beers, lambics and ciders instead of IPAs, porters, stouts and Trappist ales.
  • More fish.
    You can “summerize” anything, from ice cream flavors to your vegetables.

    And your marinades!

    Marinades are the easiest way to add flavor to foods, and to make chewier foods more tender. Mix a few simple ingredients, place them in a plastic storage bag and marinate the food overnight, turning it once or twice.

    No time? Use a FoodSaver Quick Marinator and your food will be ready to grill in 30 minutes or less.

    With this classic marinade, be sure to use fresh herbs instead of dried: The prices are lower in summer.


  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

    2. POUR the mixture into the bag or marinator or bag, marinate, and cook as desired.


    This fragrant and spicy marinade goes well with heartier fish, such as swordfish, salmon or halibut.

  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, ground
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

    1. PLACE the parsley, garlic and cilantro in a small saucepan. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, lemon juice and olive oil. Stir well and heat the mixture for 5 minutes on medium heat. Do not bring to a boil.

    2. REMOVE the saucepan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool before using.



    The citrus notes of orange and the sweetness of the honey enhance the natural flavor of salt water fish.

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

    1. MIX together the orange juice, honey, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and ginger.

    2. COAT the fish in the marinade and leave for 30 minutes if using the FoodSaver Quick Marinator, or 1 hour or more if using a bag.

    This Indian marinade is bursting with flavorful spices and yogurt, a natural tenderizer. When cooked, this marinade will be a light, flaky texture.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon coriander, ground
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
  • 2 inches ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Salt to taste

    Grilled Fish With Greek Salad

    Grilled Branzino

    Top: Grilled salmon atop a Greek Salad is a real crowd-pleaser (photo courtesy Tio Gazpacho). Bottom: Grilled branzino with a head of grilled garlic (photo courtesy Olio Restaurant | NYC).


    1. STIR together in a bowl the yogurt, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, cumin, ginger, garlic, cilantro and salt.

    2. USE your hands to toss and coat the filets in the marinade; then transfer to the bag or marinator.




    RECIPE: All-In-One Bloody Mary & Shrimp Cocktail

    If Dad’s drink is a Bloody Mary and he loves a shrimp cocktail, combine both concepts into this two-in-one “cocktail.”

    The recipe was inspired by Farm To Market Bloody Mary Pickles. But you can use your favorite Bloody Mary recipe and add the pickles and shrimp. Here’s THE NIBBLE’s favorite Bloody Mary mix recipe.

    While the top photo shows only 1 shrimp (the original Farm To Market idea was a cocktail garnish), we recommend 3-4 large shrimp (or jumbo, as the budget allows).



  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • Peeled, deveined, cooked medium shrimp, 3-4 per drink
  • Pickle chips, stuffed olives, peppadews and/or other garnishes
  • Bloody Mary mix and vodka, chilled

    1. CHILL the Bloody Mary mix and the vodka in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. (We normally keep our vodka in the fridge. Eighty-proof spirits will not freeze.)

    2. TOSS the shrimp with 1 tablespoon lemon juice in large bowl. Thread 1 shrimp and 1 pickle chip on a long toothpick or cocktail pick. Repeat with the remaining shrimp and pickles. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    3. PREPARE the Bloody Mary mix (or open the store-bought bottle) and combine with vodka.

    4. POUR into glasses and garnish each with a shrimp skewer.

  • Bloody Marys Without Vodka
  • Eleven Bloody Mary Garnishes
  • New Bloody Mary Garnishes
  • History Of The Bloody Mary
  • Set Up A Bloody Mary Bar Or Cart
  • Surf & Turf Bloody Mary

    Shrimp Cocktail Bloody Mary

    Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

    Garnish a Bloody Mary with shrimp—as many as you like (photo courtesy Farm To Market). Center: Use your julep glasses, stemware, or whatever you have that works (photo Bottom: More jumbo shrimp, less Mary (photo



    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Pick The Best Live Lobster

    Live Lobster

    Steamed Lobster

    Portuguese Lobster

    Top: One sign of a good lobster: long antennae (photo courtesy I Love Blue Sea. Center: Mmm, mmm: a lobster Platter at North River Lobster Company. Bottom: Different lobster have different colors, both live and when cooked. This one is from Portugal (photo courtesy Vermillion Restaurant).


    Planning to buy live lobsters for National Lobster Day (June 15th) or Father’s Day (June 19th)? Here are tips from Executive Chef Cenobio Canalizo of Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C.


    1. FEEL THE SHELL. There are hard-shell and soft-shell (new-shell) lobsters. It’s just a function of whether the lobsters have recently molted (shed their shells), an annual process.

  • On a soft-shell (new shell) lobster, the claws will look pristine. On a hard-shell lobster, the claws will have have scrapes from banging against rocks over the course of the year.
  • The meat in soft-shells is a bit sweeter and more tender, but a lobster with a softer shell is likely to have more water weight and less meat. They’re not as hardy, so they don’t travel as well as hard-shell lobsters. Similarly, hard-shell lobsters have more meat, but they can be a bit tougher.
    2. GIVE IT A SNIFF. A live lobster should not emit any odor.

    3. PICK A LIVELY LOBSTER. The more active the lobster, the more tender the meat. If the lobster is limp when you pick it up, it’s on its last legs. If it isn’t moving at all, it may be dead. Here’s an easy test: If you straighten out the tail, it should swiftly curve back under the body.

    4. LOOK FOR LONG ANTENNAE. The longer the antennae, the fresher the lobster. Lobsters in a holding tank will often eat each other’s antennae. If a lobster has been there for a long time, its antennae can be nibbled down—often to the base.

    5. DON’T MIND THE COLOR. The top shells are usually dark green or greenish-brown, but they can be black, blue, orange, red, white or yellow. The underbody of a live lobster, particularly the claws, are usually a vibrant red.

    6. SIZE MATTTERS. The larger the lobster, the tougher the meat. Chef Cenobio prefers lobsters under two pounds for the most tender and flavorful meat.

    7. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. There are many different species of lobster in the world’s oceans, but Chef Cenobio says the best come from Canada and Maine.

    8. GENDER DOESN’T COUNT. Most aficionados agree that there is no difference in flavor or texture between male and female lobsters. Females have a small, hard, edible roe called the coral (because of its color). These are the unfertilized eggs of the female. Both genders have the soft, greenish, edible tomalley, which serves as both the liver and pancreas.

    9. PAY ATTENTION TO PRICE. Live lobster costs between $9 to $11 dollars per pound. If the price is lower, often the quality is lower as well.


    Michael Jordan’s is uniquely situated, on the balcony overlooking the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal. In addition to fine food, you can enjoy the beautiful Concourse architecture and the elaborate ceiling, picturing the constellations. The Terminal, which opened in 1913, is an example of “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”



    RECIPE: Shrimp In Adobo Sauce

    Shrimp With Adobo Sauce Recipe

    Raw Shrimp

    Poblano Chiles

    Top: Put some camarónes on the barbacoa: That’s Spanish for put some shrimp on the barbie (photo courtesy Eat Wisconsin Cheese). Center: Fresh-caught shrimp from I Love Blue Sea/Vital Choice. Bottom: Poblano chiles (photo courtesy Burpee).


    May 10th is National Shrimp Day, celebrating America’s favorite seafood. Here’s a Mexican-style recipe, courtesy of

    You can serve this dish warm or chilled—perhaps with a warm grain or a room temperature or chilled grain salad, plus dressed greens.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can* of chipotles in adobo)
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp (10 to 12 count)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons poblano chiles, finely diced
    *Available in the Latin American foods aisle of most supermarkets.


    1. HEAT the oil and 1/4 cup adobo sauce in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and no longer translucent. But don’t overcook them: Cooked shrimp should have a slight curl. When they curl tightly inwards, the flesh will be rubbery. While the shrimp cooks…

    2. MIX the sour cream, lime juice and 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce in a small bowl. Pour into a small serving dish. Sprinkle the poblanos over shrimp to garnish.

    1. THAW the shrimp slowly in the refrigerator beginning 24 hours before you plan to cook them. Place the container in the refrigerator on a low shelf—if not in a sealed bag, then covered lightly with plastic wrap. Then remove any liquid that has collected in the container and use the thawed shrimp within one day.

    NOTE: Keep all raw foods on the lowest shelf and cooked foods on higher shelves to prevent any contamination from raw juices dripping onto cooked food.

    3. QUICK THAWING TECHNIQUE: If you can closely monitor the shrimp, place them in a leak-proof plastic bag (if it is not in one already.) Submerge the shrimp in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes until the shrimp has defrosted. Do not try to hasten the process with warm water or hot water because the shrimp will begin to cook. Cook immediately after thawing.


    Adobo is a Mexican spice blend: spicy and rich in flavor, but not too hot. As with chili powder, Chinese Five Spice, curry powder, jerk spice and other spice blends, the ingredients and proportions will vary somewhat among manufacturers and home cooks.

    Traditional adobo blends contain black pepper, cayenne, cumin, garlic, onion and oregano. They have no added salt (but check the label). You can buy the dry spice mix, or ready-made, canned chipotles in adobo sauce.

    Traditional uses are as a rub, along with lime juice and a bit of salt, on grilled chicken, fish or pork. It is added to chili recipes and taco fixings, and used to season guacamole.

    You can buy adobo ready-mixed, or can blend your own. For the latter, try 2 tablespoons granulated garlic, 1 tablespoon salt (optional), 4 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons onion powder and 2 teaspoons cayenne, ground chipotle or other chile powder.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Try Authentic Mexican Recipes For Cinco De Mayo

    Mexican Ceviche

    Chicken Fajitas

    TOP: Ceviche Acapulqueno, from the Pacific Coast of Mexico (photo courtesy BOTTOM: Tex-Mex foods like fajitas are not authentic Mexican (photo courtesy Wild Oats), but Tex-Mex cuisine that originated in Texas.


    Chef Johnny Gnall’s mother is from Mexico, so he grew up eating the real deal: authentic Mexican cuisine. So today’s tip is: Cook something authentic for Cinco de Mayo.

    It’s easy to default to Tex-Mex favorites: most “Mexican” food North of the Rio Grande is Tex-Mex, a cuisine developed by Mexicans who moved to Texas (Tejanos). For example, beef, cheese-stuffed burritos and wheat [white] flour are not common in Mexico. You won’t find chili con carne there; or chimichangas, for that matter.

    Queso dips and fajitas were born in the U.S.A. Nachos were invented in 1943 on the Mexican side of the border, as a spur-of-the-moment solution to feed a group of Army wives from Texas who stopped at a restaurant when the kitchen was closed.

    Anything with beef, black beans, Cheddar or other yellow cheese, cumin, wheat flour, black beans, and canned tomatoes are Tex-Mex, a term that first appeared in print in the 1940s. Tex-Mex was developed by Tejano restaurateurs using local ingredients to appeal to gringos (there’s plenty of beef in Texas). The fusion cuisine began to expand nationwide when food writers “discovered” it in the 1970s.

    While cooking Mexican cuisine is often a multi-step process, there are some simple yet authentic dishes you can make. Also note: There is no single “Mexican cuisine.” As it is everywhere, different regions of any country have different specialties, based on local ingredients.



    Ceviche can be found throughout Mexico (and the rest of Central and South America). Its origins lie along the country’s coastlines, where fresh fish was a staple. Recipes vary according to the local catch.

    This recipe is a popular Pacific Coast ceviche. The distinguishing characteristic of Pacific ceviches is the use of tomato juice and, often, pickled chilies in the recipe. Eastern ceviches, from Mexico’s Gulf Coast, are less complex, using fresh chilies and foregoing the tomato juice.

    You can serve ceviche as an appetizer, as a light entrée (especially at lunch), or a snack. Chef Johnny’s mother eats a big bowl for breakfast when vacationing in Acapulco.

    Always buy the freshest fish you can find for ceviche.

    Ingredients For 4 One-Cup Servings

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican* oregano
  • Optional: 1 bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded and minced
  • 20 green Manzanilla olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Optional garnish: sliced avocado
  • Optional: tortilla chips
    *Mexican oregano is a different herb than Mediterranean/European oregano. It is in a different botanical family and has different flavor notes. Mediterranean oregano is sweeter, with anise notes. Mexican oregano is grassy, with citrus notes. That being said, you can substitute Mediterranean oregano; just use a little less of it. You can also substitute dried marjoram, which comes from the same botanical family as Mexican oregano and also has citrus notes. Dried lemon verbena is another option.


    1. PLACE the fish in a non-reactive mixing bowl and cover it with the lime juice. Let the fish marinate for 3 hours. (This part of the process is curing—essentially, cooking—the fish).

    2. ADD to the bowl: the onion, tomato, orange juice, half a cup of the tomato juice, 1 tablespoon of minced serranos, a few tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of dried oregano, bay leaf, olives, cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl and let everything marinate overnight. The next day…

    3. TASTE and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Garnish with avocado and serve with tortillas chips.



    The Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast is known for its fine cuisine. While recipes can be quite elaborate, this one is quick and easy.

    This dish was adapted from a Spanish dish called Frita that uses chicken, not fish. The Veracruzeños substituted fish and also added the spicy chilies, as is typical when “Mexicanizing” a dish.


  • Snapper fillets (substitute tilapia or other white fish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 limes
  • 1 white onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-3 pickled jalapeños
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced green olives (pimiento-stuffed is fine)
  • Garnish: avocado or lime slices
    Serve With:

  • White rice

    Mexican Tilapia Recipe

    Tilapia Veracruz Style (photo courtesy


    1. SEASON the filets by rubbing salt, pepper, and lime into the flesh; let sit fit for 15 minutes. The goal here is not to fully cook the fish as in ceviche, but rather to infuse it with a bit of flavor. While the fish is sitting…

    2. CHOP half a white onion, the garlic, bell pepper, pickled jalapeños and tomatoes. Sweat the onion, garlic, and peppers in a pot until soft; then add the tomatoes with as much of their liquid as possible. Add the olives, bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.

    3. ADD the fish to a pot, covering the filets as best you can with the sauce. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the fish is done. Garnish and serve.



    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Taste Oysters

    There are numerous flavor wheels (also called aroma wheels and tasting wheels) created by the specialty foods industry. Industry professionals use them to understand the different flavors of the products they represent.

    The charts show the flavor spectrum in the particular category, mapping nuances of flavors and aromas. They’re a great way to learn how to taste. We’ve spent many enjoyable sessions, sitting down with the food and the wheel.

    THE NIBBLE has presented a:

  • Beer Flavor Wheel
  • Cider Flavor Wheel
  • Coffee Flavor Wheel
  • Olive Oil Flavor Wheel
  • Wine Tasting Wheel
    We’ve also created our own Chocolate Tasting Chart.

    Today, we present an Oyster Flavor Wheel (below) created by Pangea Shellfish.

    The flavors of agricultural products like cacao beans, olives and wine grapes are greatly affected by their terroir, the unique components of the place (environment) where they are grown. For example, depending on where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit notes—or neither.

    Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat, which affect a crop’s qualities. It includes the climate and microclimate, weather, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics gives the wine its character. Terroir is the basis of the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system.

  • Oyster terroir includes the mineral components of the body of water (comparable to the soil components of land-grown products) and what type of food the water provides to the oyster; the temperature of the water; and seasonality, which includes both the temperature and spawning cycle.

    Oysters On The Half Shell

    Permaquid Oysters

    Top: Oysters On The Half Shell at Ox And Son | Santa Monica. Bottom: Permaquid oysters from JP Shellfish.


  • Texture is a major component of an oyster’s flavor profile, so the wheel devotes a lot of space to it. Texture, or mouthfeel, can vary widely among varieties due to the oyster’s species and growing method.
    These factors are why even oysters grown in the same region taste very different. For example, a Malaspina oyster from outside Vancouver Island tastes of artichoke with undertones of metal and salt. A Pemaquid oyster from Maine tastes of cucumber.

  • In other product wheels the aromas, smelled before consuming the product, are emphasized in the wheel. But Pangea notes that it’s very hard to detect more than a refreshing ocean aroma in any fresh oyster.
    French oyster growers recently coined the term merroir to describe products harvested from the sea instead of the soil (marine + terroir = merroier).


    Band Oysters

    Riptide Oysters

    Top: Band oysters, shucked and ready to taste. “Band” refers to the pronounced black band at the bottom of the oyster meat. Bottom: Riptide Oysters from Westport, Massachusetts. Photos courtesy Pangea Shellfish.



    1. Start with the taste section. Be sure to note the oyster’s saltiness by using a brine scale of 0 to 5—0 being no salt, 5 being full ocean salinity.

    2. Follow the wheel clockwise to note the oyster’s texture and finish. The finish is the taste that remains in your mouth after you’ve eaten the item.

    An oyster may have multiple attributes in each section, so taste for all the nuances. .

    What If The Oyster Doesn’t Taste Great?

    If you encounter an unpleasant oyster, faults are built into the wheel. The wheel does not explicitly call out faults because it is subjective (an analogy: certain wine grapes have a quality described as “skunky” and some aromas are heavily sulphuric. Some people dislike them, others don’t care. Each taster should evaluate a product based on his/her own preferences.
    Tasting Tips

    To ensure a complete flavor experience:

  • Forget the condiments: lemon, sauces, etc. They cover up the flavor of the oyster, and were needed in the days before refrigeration, to cover up any possible results of sitting in a warm place.
  • Do not discard the oyster’s brine (also called liquor), the liquid in the shell. The brine is part of the tasting experience, and is essential to identify the salt content.
  • Chew the oyster 3 to 4 times. Throwing back oyster shooters is fine when their freshness is past their prime, but should never be done with premium oysters. Otherwise, you completely miss evaluating the flavors, texture and finish.
  • Have a palate cleanser between oysters. Water or seltzer (club soda contains salt) is a good option, but some people prefer water crackers like Carr’s. Unsalted matzoh does the same thing for a fraction of the price.
    Remember that there are five components of taste: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, the “protein” taste


    Oyster Tasting Chart

    This chart is © Pangea Shellfish Company, and is the first version of the wheel. It will continue to evolve based on input from industry professionals, so check for the latest version.

    Don’t want to shop and shuck at home? Bring the wheel with you to a top seafood restaurant and let the professionals do the work.



    TIP OF THE DAY: First Course, Small Bites

    Ravioli Hors d'Oeuvre


    Fancy Appetizers

    Top: A Swordfish-Ravioli Stack with Mexican garnishes. Photo courtesy Chef Eric LeVine. Center: Canned San Marzano tomatoes. Bottom: Chef LeVine’s delectable cookbook; photo courtesy Lyons Press.


    Today’s tip is that it’s easy to be creative in food preparation. Start with a first course/appetizer/starter (use the word of your choice).

    This recipe may look complicated, but putting it together is easy. The hard part was thinking it up, and that was done by Chef Eric LeVine, Food Network Chopped Champion and ICA* Chef Of The Year.

    He used Mexican seasonings, so think of serving a mini Margarita (in shot glasses or other small glasses) with the course.

    Chef Eric is also author of Small Bites Big Flavor: Simple, Savory, And Sophisticated Recipes For Entertaining. He wrote it for the home cook who wants to make imaginative and fun dishes. It’s a great start on a path to cooking more creative food.

    We’ve created our own version of his recipe.

  • If you don’t eat shellfish, substitute a ravioli of choice. For surf and turf, use meat ravioli.
  • Chef Eric made a spicy shrimp sauce. We took a simpler approach: crushed San Marzano tomatoes with minced fresh herbs.
  • The amount of fish you need will vary based on what portion size you want to serve. You can also serve the recipe as a main, by purchasing a 6-ounce swordfish steak for everyone and adding more ravioli.
  • We purchased the ravioli, pico de gallo and guacamole, making the assembly pretty speedy.


  • Swordfish steaks, 2-4 ounces per person
  • Shrimp ravioli or substitute
  • Sauce (recipe below)
  • Fresh pico de gallo
  • Guacamole
  • Garnish: lime wedges
    For The Marinade

  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup tequila
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
    For The Sauce

  • 1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves (or substitute basil or parsley, if you have them on hand)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

    1. MAKE the marinade and marinate the swordfish steaks for 30 to 40 minutes, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge. Use a glass or ceramic dish to marinate, or plastic storage bags. While the swordfish marinates, cook the ravioli.

    2. BRING a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the ravioli from sticking. Add the ravioli and stir constantly for 5 minutes, taking care not to break the ravioli. Cook to al dente, since you’ll be reheating it before serving. Remove the ravioli one-by-one with a slotted spoon and place, not touching, on a microwavable baking sheet, tray, or in a glass baking dish. Cover with foil and set aside.

    3. MAKE the sauce: Combine the tomatoes and seasonings and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

    4. GRILL the swordfish over medium heat to desired doneness, 10 to 12 for medium (we like ours medium rare). Cut into pieces. We cut 6-ounce swordfish steaks into 3 pieces for a portion size of 2 stacks. You may wish to serve only one stack.

    5. MICROWAVE the ravioli and the sauce briefly to warm them.

    6. ASSEMBLE the stacks. Place a small pool of sauce on the plate, topped with a piece of swordfish, a ravioli, and a garnish of guacamole and pico de gallo. Add the lime wedge and serve.

    *The International Caterers Association


    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Mussels At Home

    One of our favorite bistro foods is Moules Marinières (mool marin-yair), Sailor-Style Mussels. The mussels are steamed in a flavorful broth, to which they add their briny juice.

    We recently had a pot of the classic dish at Restaurant Dominique in Greenwich Village—a handsome room with big windows facing charming West Village streets.

    We not only ate every mussel; we scraped the pot for every last bit of the divine broth. We can’t wait to go back for more mussels…and everything else on the classic bistro menu.

    There’s also a mussels restaurant in New York City that serves 21 different variations, from the classic (white wine broth with garlic, shallot, parsley) to cuisine-specific riffs.

    We’ve tried everything from Indian Moules (cinnamon, curry, garlic, star anise, white wine) to Mexican Moules (calamari, chipotle in adobo, chorizo, posoles), even Meatball Moules (meatballs, tomato, onion, garlic, pesto, Parmesan cheese).

    During our most recent mussels foray, we however, we were reminded of how cramped and noisy the restaurant is; not to mention that one needs to book a table days in advance. The next day we came across the following recipe from Chef Eric LeVine, for our favorite Moules Marinières: Thai curry with coconut milk and lemongrass.

    We were hit with a blinding revelation of the obvious: We can make this at home in short order. Mussels are $4 a pound, compared with a $25 restaurant serving.

    If you don’t like Thai flavors, find a recipe for what you do like. Here’s one for classic Moules Marinières, plus how to buy and clean mussels.

    Steamed mussels are low in calories and gluten free.


    Ingredients For 4 First Courses Or 2 Mains

  • 8 sprigs cilantro, separate leaves and stems and roughly chop both
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 small shallots, sliced thin
  • ½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon zest plus 1 tbsp. juice from 1 lime
  • Kosher salt
  • 15 can (15 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, plus more to taste

    Raw Mussels

    Steamed Mussels

    Mussels In Coconut Curry Broth

    Top: Wild mussels from Good Eggs. Center: Into the pot (Le Creuset). Bottom: Voilà, let’s eat! (Photo chef Eric LeVine.)

  • 2 pounds fresh mussels (ours were from Prince Edward Island), scrubbed with beards removed
  • 1 small Thai or Serrano chile, thinly sliced

    1. COMBINE the cilantro stems, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 shallot shallot, the coriander seed, chili flakes, lime zest and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Grind into a smooth paste.

    2. SCOOP 2 tablespoons of thick cream from the top of the coconut milk into a large saucepan. Add the oil and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic, shallots and ground paste plus the green curry paste. Cook for 4 minutes.

    3. ADD the remaining coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook about 3 minutes. Taste and season as desired,

    4. ADD the mussels, first discarding any that are cracked or already opened. Stir, cover and cook, shaking the pan until mussels open. Stir in the chopped cilantro, sliced chile and lime juice.

    5. DISCARD any mussels that haven’t opened in the pot. Divide the contents, including the broth, among two or four bowls.



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