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Archive for Fish/Seafood/Caviar

GIFT OF THE DAY: Sturia Caviar, Farmed In France

Sturia Caviar

Sturia Caviar

Sturia Caviar Types

Sturia Caviar de Noel

[1] While chefs use the caviar to add glamour to a wide variety of dishes, for us the most glamorous is to eat the caviar from the tin, with a glass of Champagne. [2] Caviar must be refrigerated, but we love the idea of a gift bag full of tins. [3] Three expressions of Sturia caviar. [4] The special holiday edition (photos courtesy Sturia).

 

France is known for its haute cuisine and haute couture.

But in some circles, it’s also known for its caviar. Sturia combines the two: fine caviar in stylish packaging.

Sturia is the flagship brand of Sturgeon SCEA*, the leading French caviar producer. Established near Bordeaux 20 years ago, the company pioneered sturgeon farming in France. It sells its caviar all over the world.

Farmed caviar, you say?

THE RECENT HISTORY OF THE GREAT WILD STURGEON

For those who haven’t followed the tipping point of beluga caviar, here it is:

Overfishing, poaching, pollution, and damming of the rivers where the famed Baltic Sea and Caspian Sea sturgeon have bred for millions of years, drastically decreased the amount of caviar available, as world demand increased. Ninety percent of beluga sturgeons live in the Caspian Sea. In just 40 years, the beluga was at the brink of extinction.

The other two Caspian sturgeons, the osetra and the sevruga, were also on the Endangered Species List. The species dates back to the Triassic period, some 245 to 208 million years ago.

In January 2006, the countries that bordered these seas banded together to exclude exports (more).

CAVIAR TODAY

As a result, more than 20 years ago, caviar farms were set up to raise sturgeon in river environments all over the world, from Europe to South America to Asia.

The result: osestra and white sturgeon caviar, sustainably produced. At 3,300 pounds, the beluga is too huge to farm. The white sturgeon, which can reach 1,799 pounds, and the 440-pound osetra sturgeon, are best for farming (see the different types of caviar).

Sturgeon farming is a long, painstaking process.

  • After obtaining fry (newly hatched sturgeon), farmers have to wait 3 years before they can determine their sex. The young females are then farmed in ponds diverted from rivers, for approximately 8 years until they reach maturity.
  • At that point, an 8-year-old female sturgeon weighs about ten kilos and yields approximately 10% of her weight in caviar.
  • The eggs are harvested and lightly salted using the Russian Malossol method, which adds a small amount of salt as a preservative.
  •  
    The result: One of the most luxurious foods in the world.

    BUYING STURIA CAVIAR

    Depending on the level of sophistication of the recipient, Sturia guides you to which of their caviars you should consider.

    What particularly tickles us about Sturia is the packaging, in tins screened with art that we would happily display after the caviar is gone. (Or, repurpose them to as packaging for jewelry and other small gifts.)
     
     
    CAVIAR TRIVIA

  • Caviar is a seasonal product. The sturgeon are fished (the eggs are harvested) between September and March.
  • Like any agricultural product, caviar from the same sturgeon will have different nuances depending on the environment where it was raised (terroir).
  •  
    BRUSH UP ON CAVIAR

    Glossary of Caviar Terms

    Caviar Q & A

     
    ________________
    *SCEA refers to the civil farming company, or société civile d’exploitation agricole.

    †In fact, 85% of the 27 sturgeon species are at approaching extinction.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Feast Of The Seven Fishes, Anchovies With Bread & Butter

    Anchovies, Bread & Butter

    White Anchovies

    White Anchovies

    Stirato, Italian Baguette

    [1] Nonna Menna’s buttered bread with anchovies (photo courtesy Giulia Scarpaleggia). [2] We substitute pimiento for the capers (photo courtesy La Tienda). [3] You can use anchovy filets in olive oil or boquerones, marinated filets turned white by the vinegar (photo courtesy La Tienda). [4] Stirato is the closed Italian bread to the French baguette (photo courtesy Them Apples).

     

    You don’t have to be of Italian descent to create the traditional Feast Of The Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

    We do it every year as a co-op event: Seven of us prepare the seven fish/seafood dishes, and the eighth makes dessert. (Note: With seven courses, the portions are smaller.)

    If you’re having a “regular” Christmas Eve party, set out the Feast Of The Seven Fishes as a buffet.

    We live near a good Italian bakery and can pick up stirato, the Italian bread closest to a baguette; but you can bake it yourself.

    Or buy baguettes!

    It’s a splendid feast, with opera playing in the background (or Christmas carols or Il Volo, if you prefer).

    For menu suggestions and a backgrounder on the holiday, check out our:

  • 2009 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2010 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2014 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2015 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  •  
    RECIPE #1: OUR 2016 APPETIZER

    As we sit around the sofa with bottles of wine, warming up for the main meal, we’re having a bread and butter with anchovies, inspired by the Tuscan grandmother of food writer Giulia Scarpaleggia. Nonna Menna added capers as well.

    “Just use quality ingredients,” says Giulia, “because there are no tricks nor deceits!” You can even…
     
    HAVE A TASTING, COMPARING THE DIFFERENT BRANDS

    Butter. Our go-to butters are from Cabot’s and Vermont Creamery, but we’ll add Kerrygold, Organic Valley and Plugrá. If we had more capacity, we’d test Breakstone and Land o’ Lakes as well.

    Anchovies. We are happy with Cento, an inexpensive brand available at supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and elsewhere. We can also find Ortiz and Roland in our neighborhood, and are ordering some fancy brands online. (There are no fresh anchovies in our markets now.)

    Capers. Instead of Nonna’s capers, we’re using pimiento, a wonderful pairing with anchovies, with a garnish of chopped parsley. If we have time, we’ll add some lemon zest and garlic, or gremolata.
     
    PUTTING IT TOGETHER

    The recipe is a no-brainer, but here’s how we’re serving it:

    Place all the ingredients on the table and let people butter and top their own.
     
    Ingredients & Preparation

  • A basket of sliced plain striate and a basket of toasted slices (substitute baguette for stirato).
  • Unsalted butter, softened in ramekins, served blind with butter spreaders. A number written on each ramekin with a china marker, and revealed at the end of the course.
  • Anchovies in oil, drained and piled into shallow bowls or small plates, with appetizer/cocktail forks for serving.
  • Pimiento (sweet red pepper) strips.
  • Fresh minced parsley, in a ramekin with an espresso spoon (because what’s a fish course without fresh herbs).
  •  
    Variations

  • Replace the anchovies butter or sardine butter, a compound butter you can throw together.
  • Mash 1 cup of softened, unsalted butter with 1/2 cup mashed anchovies or sardines.
  • You can substitute anchovy paste, but it’s typically made with the cheapest anchovies, and very salty.
  •  

    RECIPE #2: FRUTTI DI MARE FIRST COURSE

    Frutti di mare, “fruits of the sea” in Italian, is the name of a dish made of different seafood on the coasts of Italy.

    Frutti di mare literally means “fruits of the sea” and can include all types of seafood, including mussels, clams, prawns and other shellfish.

    It can be served in different ways: crudo (raw), fried and sautéed, for example.

    Sautéed, it is often used to top bucatini, linguine or spaghetti.

    For a first course, gather your favorite seafood and:

  • Serve it as a marinated seafood salad with good olive oil and lemon juice for at least part of the vinegar. You can serve it as is, but we prefer turning it into a green salad course.
  • You can mix the seafood with olives or capers. You can add onion. Place it atop Boston lettuce or mesclun mixed with fresh basil and baby arugula.
  • Pile it into a Martini or coupe glass, with a small romaine leaf for garnish.
  • You can serve frutti di mare as a pasta course, with good olive oil or garlic-infused oil as your sauce (don’t forget the fresh herbs). Or, use your favorite red sauce.
  • Like to make cannelloni or crêpes? Fill them with frutti de mare and top with mornay sauce.
  • Need a soup course? Cook the fish and seafood in some Swanson broth.
     
    HOW CUTTLEFISH ARE DIFFERENT FROM SQUID

    They’re different from calamari, too.

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    Frutti Di Mare

    Frutti di mare, mixed seafood, can be served in many ways. [1] Marinated, at All’ Onda | NYC). [2] With pasta; here’s the recipe from InPerugia.com.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Gravlax

    It’s easy to look at gravlax and think it’s smoked salmon. Both have that bright pink-orange color, both are served in thin slices.

    The differences: One is smoked over wood, the other is cured in brine; one requires a smoker, the other is cured in the fridge. Another distinction: Gravlax is always cured with fresh dill. Consider it as dill-cured salmon. Another: Gravlax tends to be more pale in color; but the color of smoked salmon varies and depends on factors from farmed vs. wild to diet of the fish.

    Our first introduction to gravlax was in college. Invited to a dinner party, we arrived early to help, and were proudly shown the first course: gravlax. It had been cured for three days in the fridge, under a brick!

    It looked like smoked salmon, a favorite of ours; but the taste was so much more delicate. Without the infusion of smoke, a more pure salmon quality came through.
     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF GRAVLAX

    During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen, who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand on the beach above the high-tide line. The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word gräva/grave, to dig; and lax/laks, salmon.

    Today fermentation is no longer used in favor of brining. The salmon is “buried” in a dish in the fridge, in a dry marinade of salt, sugar and dill. In three days, it’s cured. That’s it!

    Some people like to add grated beets, to color the gravlax red.

    Don’t toss the brine produced during curing: Use it to make a sauce for other seafood recipes.

    Beyond salmon, you can use this technique to cure any fatty fish, such as arctic char, black cod/sablefish, butterfish/pompano, Chilean sea bass, Florida pompano and mackerel. For an interesting first course that’s full of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Here’s a list of (fatty vs. lean fish.

    RECIPE: HOMEMADE GRAVLAX

    Wild salmon is the most delicious, but you can use any salmon, fresh or frozen, with the skin on (but remove any scales and small bones). If frozen, defrost it first, ideally overnight in the fridge.

    If you’re concerned about eating raw fish, freeze the salmon before preparing it. This kills any harmful bacteria.

    If you want to take this recipe for a test-drive, halve the ingredients. You can also make two half batches, testing different curing times (12 hours versus 48 hours, e.g.).

    Ingredients For 10 Three-Ounce Servings

  • 2 pounds salmon (skin on, defrosted if previously frozen)
  • 1 bunch of dill, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • Optional: 2-3 raw beets, grated, for a red color (see photo)
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-ground black pepper
  •  
    Variation

    Some recipes add vodka and citrus zest.

    Preparation

    1. MAKE a few cuts in the skin so the marinade will better penetrate.

    2. MIX all ingredients except the salmon in a bowl until you have a gooey paste. Cover each piece of the salmon’s flesh side (not the skin side) with a thick layer of paste. If using two fillets, sandwich them together, flesh-side to flesh-side, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap to keep out any air.

    3. PLACE the salmon on a tray or plate (we used a glass baking dish) and let it marinate for 2-4 hours at room temperature. Then place it in the fridge with a very weight on top of it. If you have a couple of bricks, great: Stick them in plastic bags and use them as weights.

    4. CURE for 12-36 hours, depending on how cured a taste you want. Turn the salmon occasionally.

  • 12-24 hours is a light cure that will yield a very fresh tasting gravlax.
  • 48 hours will yield a gravlax with sharper flavor from the seasonings.
  • Slice off a small piece and taste it. If you want more flavor, rewrap the salmon and put it back in the fridge.
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    5. TO SERVE, wipe off the extra seasoning, rinse the fillets and pat them dry. Using a sharp knife, slice the gravlax vertically, cut into thin slices without getting too close to the skin. Serve it with your choice of ingredients; see the list below.
     
    RECIPE #2: MUSTARD SAUCE FOR GRAVLAX

    You can serve horseradish cream with the gravlax, Swedish mustard sauce, or both.

    We adapted this recipe from Sweden.se.

    Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper*
  • 1 cup olive or other vegetable oil
  • Chopped dill
  •    

    Salmon Fillet

    Gravlax

    Gravlax Plate

    Gravlax Eggs Benedict

    Gravlax Tartine

    Beet-Dyed Gravlax

    [1] Turn this salmon fillet into [2] gravlax (photo #1 courtesy Seabee Salmon; photo #2 courtesy Sweden.se). [3] Gravlax can be served plain or fancy, as in this first course from Eataly | Chicago, or [4] Gravlax Eggs Benedict (photo courtesy Jarlsberg). [5] You can serve a simple open- (or closed-) face sandwich, or an elegant presentation like this one from C Chicago. [6] Beet-dyed gravlax with some of its traditional accompaniments (photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco).

     
    Preparation

    1. MIX the mustard, sugar and vinegar together thoroughly; season with salt and fresh-ground pepper.

    2. POUR the oil in a steady, thin stream, stirring constantly. When the sauce reaches a mayonnaise-like consistency, mix in the chopped dill.
     
    ________________
    *The recipe called for white pepper, a popular ingredient in Swedish cooking but not often used by American home cooks. We used black. Peppercorns are the fruit of a vine, Piper nigrum. White pepper is a conventional peppercorn with the black husk removed. While much of the piperine—the compound that gives pungency to the peppercorn—is in the husk, French chefs of yore chose to remove it to avoid black specks in pure white dishes like white sauces and puréed potatoes. Frankly, we like the specks and the extra flavor from the husk, and use black peppercorns universally. Here are the different types of pepper, including pink peppercorns, green peppercorns and dozens of others, none of which is Piper nigrum.

     

    Gravlax With Mustard Sauce

    Horseradish Sauce

    Prepared Horseradish

    [7] Swedish mustard sauce from The Galanter’s Kitchen. [8] Horseradish sauce (photo courtesy Food Network), made with [8] prepared horseradish (photo courtesy Koops).

     

     
    RECIPE #3: HORSERADISH SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons prepared (jarred) horseradish
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Extras virgin olive oil
  • Pinch salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the sour cream, horseradish and lemon grated horseradish and lemon juice from in a small bowl. Mix well, season with a pinch of salt and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

    2. COVER and place in the fridge until ready to serve.

     
    WAYS TO SERVE GRAVLAX

    Gravlax is a mainstay of the Swedish smorgasbord. You can serve it that way with some of the ingredients below; or use it as you would smoked salmon. Yes, it works on a bagel, a sandwich, a canapé, Salmon Eggs Benedict, etc.

  • Blini or other savory pancakes
  • Capers
  • Crème fraîche
  • Cucumber salad
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Potatoes, boiled and dressed with parsley and/or dill, or in a vinaigrette
  • Radishes, sliced (look for candy-stripe of watermelon radishes)
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Sauerkraut (look for an artisan/probiotic brands)
  • Watercress
  •  
    Plus

  • Lemon wedges
  • Horseradish cream
  • Mustard sauce
  • Rye bread (dark and/or light rye)
  • Optional: unsalted butter
  •  
    Optional: Other Seafood

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel gravlax
  • Sardines
  •  

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Cook Octopus

    Raw Octopus

    Ceviche With Octopus

    Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Salad With Beans

    Fancy Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Tostadas

    [1] Cleaned, frozen, thawed and ready to cook (photo courtesy EuroUSA). [2] Ceviche with marinated (not grilled) octopus (photo courtesy Lola | Denver). [3] Seared and ready to plate (photo courtesy Scarpetta | NYC). [4] A classic first course or luncheon salad: grilled octopus and fancy greens atop a bean salad vinaigrette (photo courtesy l’Amico | NYC). [5] An easy yet fancy main (photo courtesy Gardenia | NYC). [6] Octopus tostadas (photo courtesy MexicanFoodMemories.co.uk).

     

    Over the past 10 years, charred/seared or grilled octopus has become de rigueur at just about every restaurant we patronize.

    That’s great news, because we love grilled octopus with a drizzle of olive oil. It doesn’t get more delicious than that.

    Yet, simple as it is to grill seafood, we never tried it at home. One reason: We typically don’t see mature octopus at fish markets (in mainstream markets, it’s often a special order); and we personally don’t like the miniature size (not as meaty, not as tender, etc.).

    So this past weekend, we happened upon frozen octopus at a Latin American grocer. It was tentacles only, which means we didn’t have to remove the head and beak. What could we do but buy it and give it a shot?

    It turns out that frozen octopus is actually more tender than fresh. Freezing and then thawing the tentacles helps to tenderize the meat. White wine, often used as a braising liquid to slow-cook the tentacles, is a second tenderizer.

    Octopus, first braised/poached and then charred/seared or grilled, is incredibly versatile and can take on any aromatics. The classic Mediterranean preparation is poached in white wine with garlic and oregano, served with gigante beans and/or some combination of capers, lemon, olives and tomatoes.

    But you can make anything from octopus tostadas to tandoori octopus; or go beyond the popular octopus and bean salad with a salad of fennel, mint, orange slices and red onion in a sherry vinaigrette.

    You can cut the cooked octopus into kabob chunks, serve it thinly sliced on a flatbread pizza. We made a hero sandwich with sliced octopus, roasted red peppers and giardiniera.

    Perhaps the most difficult step with octopus is he first step: deciding how you want to serve it, with so many delectable options. Some of our favorites are shown in the photos—at least, the ones we’re capable of making. Also take a look at pulpo a la gallega, an octopus and potato torta from Spain; and octopus terrine, which can be turned into octopus pastrami.

     
    RECIPE: SEARED OR GRILLED OCTOPUS

    Here’s an important note before you start: As with bacon, onions and other foods, what looks like a lot of cooks down to far less. Estimate 3/4 to 1 pound per person as a first course.

    Ingredients For 6 First Courses

  • 1/4 cup plus extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds octopus, thawed overnight in the fridge
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, oregano, or both
  • 1 bottle dry white wine (e.g. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the beak from the octopus. Place a plastic cutting board in the sink, slice off the head, and flip the octopus to remove the beak, which is in the middle of the tentacles. With a paring knife, slice around the beak and pushing it through, as if coring a pear or tomato. It will to pop out the other side.

    2. HEAT 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole or dutch oven. Add the octopus and cook over moderately high heat, turning until lightly browned (2 to 3 minutes). Transfer the octopus to a plate or bowl. Add the garlic cloves to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

    3. ADD the white wine gently, and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Here’s a tip from every Italian nonna: When slow-cooking in wine, put the actual wine cork in the braising liquid to cook along with the octopus. It’s one of those tricks that no one can explain. But simple slow cooking (braising) also creates tender tentacles, so don’t go crazy looking for “the secret.” There is one tip we’ll pass along from Bon Appetit: If you want the tentacles to curl, dip them in the hot poaching broth three times before submerging.

    4. RETURN the octopus to the casserole, add up to 1 cup of water or broth if necessary, to cover the octopus. Cover the casserole and braise over moderately low heat until very tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the octopus completely in the braising liquid, another technique that keeps the flesh tender.”

    5. REMOVE the red skin by rubbing it with a paper towel, taking care to leave the on suckers, which are the parts that get crispy when grilled. Plus, removing them will dry out the cooked octopus. If the suckers start to come off when rubbing, it means the octopus has been cooked it too long. It isn’t ruined, but do your best to keep the remainder intact for the aforementioned reasons.

     
    6. FINISH the octopus by searing in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, creating a deep char on the outside. We prefer to sear the tentacles whole, about 8 minutes per side (we like ours very crispy). The flesh and suckers will caramelize nicely; (you can also thinly slice the tentacles and grill cut side down over moderately high heat, for about 1 minute; then and cook for 20 seconds. We cook the octopus in long lengths, and prefer to serve it two meaty 6-inch or four 3-inch pieces. Cut the head into 1-1/2-inch pieces. We use them in green salads or as a garnish for fish.

    7. PLACE on a platter lined with paper towels to absorb any excess olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Transfer the octopus to plates. Fill the radicchio leaves with the Italian salad and set beside the octopus. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.
     
    Variation: You can also roast the octopus, but we haven’t tried it.
     
    WHAT IS AN OCTOPUS (SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING)?

    The octopus (plural octopuses, octopodes or octopi) is a cephalopod mollusc in the phylum Mollusca (class Cephalopoda, order Octopoda, family Octopodidae, genus Octopus, species vulgarism, plus more than 100 total species, representing one-third of all cephalopods.

    The octopus has two eyes and four pairs of arms (tentacles) and a beak mouth at the center underside of its tentacles. An invertebrate, it has no vertebral column [backbone or spine) and no other skeleton. It most intelligent of the invertebrates.

      

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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.
     
    WINE PAIRINGS FOR BAKED OR POACHED SALMON

    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.

     
    RECIPE: BAKED SALMON IN HERB BUTTER

    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.

     

     
    Preparation

    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.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF OVENS

    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.
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    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 Tips-For-Camping.com). [3] An oven in Pompei (photo courtesy TrueBrickOvens.Blogspot.com). [4] A Victorian cast-iron oven: still wood-fueled, no temperature dials (photo courtesy Telegraph.co.uk).

  • 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.
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