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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

FOOD HOLIDAY: National Spinach Day

Popeye may have enjoyed his spinach straight from the can, but for today, National Spinach Day, we can come up with 20 better suggestions.

BREAKFAST

  • Spinach omelet or fritatta (recipe)
  • Eggs Benedict With Spinach (recipe)
  •  
    DIPS & SPREADS

  • Green Mayonnaise (Julia Child’s recipe)
  • Spinach Dip With Walnuts (recipe)
  • Spinach Pesto (substitute spinach for the basil in this recipe)
  • Warm Crab & Spinach Dip (recipe)
  • Warm Spinach & Mascarpone Dip (recipe)
  • 13 Ways To Use Spinach Dip Or Spread
  •  
    LUNCH & FIRST COURSES

  • Curried Spinach Tart (recipe)
  • Grilled Cheese With Spinach (recipes)
  • Mac & Cheese With Spinach (recipe)
  • Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie—recipe)
  •    

    spinach-mascarpone-dip-vermontcreamery-230

    A warm spinach dip, creamy with mascarpone cheese. Photo courtesy Vermont Creamery.

     

    beet-spinach-apple-salad-butterball230

    Beet, spinach and apple salad. Photo courtesy Butterball.

     

    MAINS

  • Pasta With Spinach: penne pasta with a garnish of fresh spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes (recipe), bow tie pasta with chicken and spinach (recipe) or cheese tortellini with spinach (recipe)
  • Spinach Stuffed Pork Roast (recipe)
  •  
    PIZZA

  • Feta & Spinach Pizza (recipe)
  • Spinach & Grilled Shrimp Pizza (recipe)
  •  
    SIDES

  • Wilted Spinach With Tzatziki (Greek yogurt dip—recipe)
  •  
    SALADS

  • Beet, Spinach & Apple Salad (recipe)
  • Spinach & Grapefruit Salad (recipe)
  •  

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Baby Purple Artichokes (Fiesole)

    In season now, these little artichokes are a treat for artichoke lovers and a lovely shade of vegetable for Easter dinner.

    Called fiesole (fee-YEH-so-lay) in Italian, the baby purple artichoke—the size of a large egg—belongs to the botanical genus and species, Cynara scolymus, which includes the green globe artichokes and purple globe artichokes.

    Artichokes are the immature flower heads of an herbaceous perennial thistle plant in the Compositae botanical family. The cardoon, or artichoke thistle/wild artichoke, is a different species: Cynara cardunculus. Here’s more about artichoke varieties.

    The tulip shaped baby purple artichokes have the same great flavor as their large green and purple kin and are easier to eat because they haven’t developed the fuzzy portion of on top of the choke. They are bright violet in color; the colors fade only slightly when they are cooked.

    The only thorn in the flesh is exactly that: The leaves still have sharp tips.

       

    baby-purple-artichokes-melissas-230

    Baby purple artichokes. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     
    Harvested young for tenderness and rich flavor, baby purple artichokes typically have intense fruity and nutty flavors and grassy tones, and are considered to be the most flavorful of all baby artichoke varieties.

    If you can’t find the artichokes locally, you can buy them from Melissas.com.

    HOW TO BUY BABY ARTICHOKES

    Look for firm, thin, compact leaves (called a tight core) that are bright without discoloration. If you squeeze the artichoke and it squeaks, it is fresh!

    Store the, unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to two weeks.

    Here’s a photo spread on how to prepare artichokes for cooking.
     
    HOW TO SERVE BABY ARTICHOKES

    Baby artichokes are easy to prepare. They may be baked, boiled, braised, marinated, poached, roasted or steamed. When slow-cooked, artichokes become tender and more flavorful, absorb the flavors with which they are cooked. [Source]

    Artichokes pair well with both fatty and high acid ingredients: anchovies, bacon, basil, butter, cheese (especially goat and feta), cream, garlic, lemon, hollandaise, mushrooms, pepper, sausage, thyme, tomatoes, vinaigrette, white wine and truffles.

    You can find many recipes online, but here are two thoughts:

  • Appetizer: Simmer in olive oil, then fry at until ther leaves open. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve.
  • Main: Slice in half and braise the artichokes in olive oil, white wine, garlic and herbs. Serve them with risotto.
  •  

    purple-artichoke-friedasFB-230r

    A purple globe artichoke. The variety is called “Sangria.” Photo courtesy Frieda’s.

     

    A BRIEF ARTICHOKE HISTORY

    Artichokes were first cultivated in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago in Maghreb, the region of North Africa west of Egypt, where they still growing wild. They spread through the Mediterranean region.

    The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.E.) wrote of artichokes being grown in Italy and Sicily.

    The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 C.E.), a surgeon with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, wrote about artichokes at the time of Christ.

    Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In the ensuing centuries, they were grown in France and other areas of Europe.

    In America, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe entitled “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” In the early 1800s, French immigrants settling in the Louisiana Territory planted artichokes.

     

    In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, lease land to Italian immigrant farmers and encouraged them to grow the “new” vegetable, as artichokes were fetching high prices. [Source]

    Fiesole artichokes are named for the city of Fiesole, Italy, an ancient Etruscan town located in the hills above Florence. They were initially bred from the Violetta de Provence artichoke, a purple variety native to southern France.

    As for its botanical name, Cynara scolymus: The genus name comes from the Greek kynara, artichoke. Scolymus derives from the Greek word for thistle.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Leftover Grains As A Soup Garnish

    When we have leftover cooked grains—barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, rice, etc.—we start using them the next morning in breakfast omelets. By the time lunch comes, we’re ready to make grain salad.

    If we don’t have enough for a salad, we add the grains to soup. They can make quite a handsome garnish, and most grains go with any type of soup.

    In the photo, Brazilian steakhouse chain Texas de Brazil topped a mound of rice with a shrimp garnish.

    But you can use the grain plain, with a simple sprinkling of green herbs or something equally colorful (halved cherry tomato, sliced jalapeño or bell pepper).

    Or, take the occasion to use up leftover proteins to top the grain: bacon, fish, seafood, poultry, steak. It’s a great way to repurpose small bits of leftovers you can’t do much else with.

    Vegetarians can substitute a cube of grilled tofu, a cherry tomato, olive or leftover steamed vegetables.

    And, you can use leftover beans and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, peas) instead of the grains.

    Whatever you choose, a sprig of green—shredded basil (called chiffonade) or a small basil leaf, rosemary or parsley sprig, cilantro, chives, chopped green onions (scallions) or microgreens–is the final crown on what started out as a conventional bowl of soup.

     

    lobster-bisque-rice-garnish-texasdebrazil-230

    Turn rice into a base for even more garnishes. First mound the grain in the center of the bowl, then carefully pour the soup around it. Photo courtesy Texas de Brazil.

     
    It’s a nice change from croutons.

    Here are 20+ more ways to garnish soup.

      

    Comments

    TRENDS: Restaurant Focus For 2015

    orange-peel-lolalovesgreen-230r

    No more waste: In restaurant kitchens, everything can have a second life. Citrus peel
    is turned into marmalade. Photo courtesy Lola Loves Green.

     

    What are the top culinary concerns for restaurateurs this year?

    According to a survey by Nation’s Restaurant News, the top five focus on gluten-free and sustainability.

    1. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

    Safeguarding natural resources is a growing concern across the globe, and the number one culinary issue cited in a survey of American chefs. It’s not just with fine dining: Fast casual concepts like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Sweetgreen have been on the bandwagon since their inception. Chipotle recently stopped serving pork when it couldn’t find enough sustainable meat!

     
    2. NATURAL INGREDIENTS/MINIMALLY PROCESSED FOODS

    “Clean” labels and minimally processed food appeal to more and more customers. Chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association named natural ingredients and minimally processed food as a major theme. Last year, fast food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s took the concept mainstream, adding an all-natural burger to the menu. Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts have responded to consumer complaints by doing away with additives.
     
    3. HYPERLOCAL SOURCING

    Locally sourced and house-grown food are becoming more and more important to customers. “Hyperlocal” fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown in restaurant gardens. Some restaurants have beehives as well. We’ve even seen chickens strutting around rooftops (fresh eggs!).

     
    4. FOOD/WASTE REDUCTION MANAGEMENT

    Food costs are rising and consumers are growing more concerned about how what they eat affects the planet. Both have become major concerns among the dining public.

    Chefs are practicing more “root-to-stem” cooking, the logical next step to “nose-to-tail” cooking, in which restaurants utilize the entire animal (or vegetable). It’s an effective way to avoid waste and manage costs.

    Chefs have long used bits and scraps—in soups, chicken salad and so forth. But now, they’re making marmalade from citrus skins and bitters from plum and peach pits. This parallels the new law in Seattle, which as of January 1st ordered no more food waste in the garbage. Instead, residents are expected to recycle and compost.

    5. GLUTEN-FREE CUISINE

    Fewer than 7% of Americans are sensitive to gluten; about 1% of people worldwide suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten consumption can cause life-threatening intestinal damage.

    Yet, 63% of Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports said they believed following a gluten-free diet would improve their physical or mental health*. About a third of those said they buy gluten-free products or try to avoid gluten.

    Gluten-free cuisine was the culinary theme chefs pointed to fifth most often in the NRA survey. Restaurants are responding with a growing array of gluten-free options, including gluten-free burger buns.

     
    *Note that no scientific studies to date confirm or deny a positive impact of gluten-free diets among condition-free consumers.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Castelfranco Chicory

    Californians are so lucky. Between the great growing climate and consumer demand for the best, local farmers grow produce not often seen in other parts of the country.

    Take this Castelfranco chicory, a joy to behold. The round, slightly open lettuce* heads have pale green leaves that are speckled with burgundy red.

    Italians call it “a flower for eating.” It’s almost too pretty to eat! Castelfranco is the sweetest of the radicchio-type chicories: crunchy with an interesting, slightly bitter flavor.

    Other names for the lettuce include variegata di Castelfranco, radicchio Castelfranco and Castelfranco variegata. It’s an heirloom radicchio-type chicory from the Veneto region of Italy, where it is abundant and popular. Castelfranco is a town in the area.

    A pretty salad by itself, it can be mixed with other greens.

    The crop from which this head was picked was grown by Dirty Girl Produce, a certified organic family farm in Santa Cruz County. It’s sold at farmers markets, to restaurants and artisan food markets like Good Eggs.

     

    castelfranco-chicory-goodeggs-230

    A beautiful head of castelfranco chicory. Photo courtesy Good Eggs.

     

    And people wonder why the first thing we do when landing in California is head to the farmers markets!

     
    *Chicory is in the same botanical family as iceberg lettuce and romaine (Asteraceae), but a different genus (Cichorium versus Lactuca).

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grilled Fish Garnish

    mahi-mahi-garnish-spin-crumbs-crab-bonefishgrill-230

    Dorado (mahi-mahi), garnished with
    creamed spinach, toasted breadcrumbs and
    crabmeat. Photo courtesy Bonefish Grill.

     

    You may be eating more grilled, pan-sautéed or poached fish for health or for Lent. But it doesn’t have to be dull.

    The photo at left shows “Dorado Rockefeller,” a riff on Oysters Rockefeller, which tops oysters with creamed spinach and toasted breadcrumbs.

    At Bonefish Grill, a piece of dorado (mahi mahi) gets a similar treatment. But because Bonefish Grill is a seafood palace, they crowned the dish with crab meat.

    Since most fish is bland in color, use the garnish as an opportunity to add brightness to the plate.
     
    PLACE THE FISH ON A BED

    Instead of—or in addition to—garnishing the top of the fish, create visual interest by placing grains or vegetables under the fish:

  • Asparagus, string beans, carrots
  • Lentils or other legume or pulse (beans, chickpeas, peas, etc.)
  • Mashed potatoes or cauliflower
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Ratatouille
  • Succotash
  •  
    CHOOSE A COLORFUL SAUCE

  • Diced, seasoned canned tomatoes
  • Red pasta sauce, from mild marinara to spicy puttanesca
  • Salsa, red or green
  • Sautéed, steamed or creamed spinach (standing in as a sauce)
  • Sliced cherry/grape tomato vinaigrette with minced fresh herbs (see photo below)
  •  

    GARNISHES FOR FISH

    When you use a lightly-dressed salad as a garnish, the vinaigrette serves as a sauce.

  • Baby greens salad
  • Diced green, orange, red and/or yellow bell peppers
  • Fresh herbs or herb salad
  • Fruit: halved grapes, lemon or lime slices, olives, pink/red grapefruit segments
  • Lemon-lime slices
  • Toasted bread crumbs (recipe below)
  • Sliced grape/cherry tomatoes with fresh herbs
  • Sautéed red jalapeño slices (remove the seeds and white pith)
  • Thin-sliced vegetables: chiles, cucumber, sauteéd mushrooms with herbs, summer squash, tomato
  •  

    steamed-cod-asian-sauce-salsa-bonefishgrill-230

    Steamed cod, citrus Thai sauce, tomato salsa. Photo courtesy Bonefish Grill.

     

    RECIPE: TOASTED BREAD CRUMBS

    These taste best with a rustic or sourdough loaf. The bread can be fresh or day-old. The recipe can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups fine bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the crust and cut or tear the bread into chunks approximately one inch in size. Pulse in a food processor to desired consistency.

    2. TOAST the crumbs in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

    3. TOSS the breadcrumbs frequently until golden brown and crunchy, about 5 minutes,. Season with a bit of salt to taste.

      

    Comments

    TIP: Dip Sweet Chips On National Chip & Dip Day

    sweet-potato-chips-strawberry-dip-tablespoon.com-230

    Cinnamon sweet potato chips with
    strawberry yogurt dip. Photo courtesy
    Tablespoon.com.

     

    March 23rd is National Chip and Dip Day. When we think of chips and dip, salty chips pop into mind, with creamy dips, guacamole or salsa.

    But today’s tip is: For snacking or a fun dessert, go sweet with cinnamon-sugar flavored chips and a sweet dip.

    Just a quick glance of some of the better brands on store shelves:

  • Bare Cinnamon Apple Chips (a NIBBLE favorite, and gluten-free)
  • Cabo Chips Churro Tortilla Chips
  • Glenny’s Apple Cinnamon Low Fat Soy Crisps
  • Glutino Cinnamon and Sugar Gluten Free Bagel Chips
  • Kay’s Naturals Cinnamon Toast Protein Pretzel Sticks
  • Popchips Cinnamon Twist Sweet Potato Chips
  • Popcorners Whole Grain Chips
  • Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips
  • Terra Cinnamon Spice Sweet Potato Chips
  •  

    WHAT DIP SHOULD YOU USE?

    Here are some suggestions from Cabo Chips and THE NIBBLE:

  • Caramel Sauce: Cinnamon and caramel are a delicious combination. Simply warm a bowl of caramel sauce in the microwave.
  • Chocolate Sauce: Melt chocolate chips or a chopped chocolate bar in the microwave for 45 seconds. You can dip chps in the warm chocolate, or dip the chips and place on wax paper until the chocolate sets.
  • Dulce de Leche Sauce: As with caramel sauce, simply warm a bowl of dulce de leche in the microwave.
  • Mexican Fried Ice Cream: Warm the chips in a toaster oven for 5 minutes on low heat. Place in individual bowls and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Garnish with chocolate or caramel sauce a drizzle of honey. You can also add fresh berries.
  • Nutella: Place a few spoonfuls in the microwave for 30 seconds, then drizzle over the chips or simply dip them.
  • Sweet “Nachos”: Warm the chips, drizzle with warmed sauce, and garnish with butterscotch or chocolate chips or mini marshmallows.
  • Yogurt Dip: Use fruit or vanilla yogurt straight, or augment it with mini chocolate chips or other inclusions.
  • Your own recipe for a sweet dip. Cheesecake dip, anyone?
  •  

    apple-chips-salted-caramel-dip-dizzybusyandhungry-230

    Apple chips with a salted caramel dip. Photo © DizzyBusyAndHungry.com. Here’s the recipe.

     

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Sashimi Cubes, 21st Century Sashimi Art

    sashimi-cubes-RASushi-230

    A sushi chef interprets sashimi for the 21st
    century. Photo courtesy RA Sushi | Orlando.

     

    The sashimi tradition dates back to Japan’s Muromachi period, approximately 1337 to 1573 C.E. In the 1500s, when someone thought to cut up raw fish and dip the pieces into soy sauce, sashimi was born.

    The marriage with pads of rice (nigiri sushi) and in seaweed-wrapped rolls, both known as sushi, came later. Modern sushi was created by Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858) at the end of the Edo period (1603 and 1868). He invented it in Edo, the city that is now Tokyo. It was an early form of fast food.

    Today, sushi chefs train for years to achieve a level 1 certification, and prepare both sushi and sashimi (see the differences below). But back to sashimi:

    In this beautiful evolution from RA Sushi (see photo), the fish is cut into cubes. If you think you don’t have the knife skills to make sashimi at home, think again.

     

    This is much easier for a home cook to do than cutting the thin slivers of fish in a way that sushi chefs take years to master.

    A Japanese saying, “kasshu hojo,” means that cutting is the most important; cooking skill comes second. But fear not: All you need to can serve this beautiful plate at home is a sharp knife and an eye for straight lines. (Don’t have an eye? Use a washed ruler or other straight edge.)

    Then, enjoy this “special occasion” dish that is so easy to make, you can enjoy it anytime.

     
    RECIPE: SASHIMI CUBES

    Ingredients

  • Fillets of salmon, tuna and yellowtail
  • 2 shrimp per person
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Optional: grated ginger
  • Optional: grated lemon or lime zest
  • Optional garnish: microgreens
  • Optional: lemon or lime wedges
  •  
    Preparation

    1. STEAM or use other technique to lightly cook the shrimp (or for contrast, you can grill them). To get the elongated shape shown in the photo, cook the shrimp on skewers.

    2. CUT the fish into bite-size cubes, about one inch square.

    3. PLATE, ideally in a square grid on a square plate, as shown in the photo. But large round plates work, too. Garnish with the shrimp some pretty microgreens.

    4. SERVE with soy sauce and wasabi. To make the soy sauce more interesting, mix it with fresh grated ginger (lots!) and a bit of lemon or lime zest. We always serve sushi and sashimi with lemon or lime wedges, and squeeze the fresh juice over the fish before dipping the pieces in soy sauce.

     

    SQUARE PLATES

    You can buy square plates with angled rims or without rims.
     

    Or, if you don’t want to make an investment, pick up some very inexpensive yet attractive white plastic square plates, in 8-inch or 10-3/4-inch sizes.
     
    SUSHI & SASHMI: THE DIFFERENCE

    What Is Sushi?

    Sushi is a dish made of vinegared rice (it also has a bit of sugar to counter the vinegar) that can be variously combined with thin slices of seafood, vegetables, egg and, in the world of nouvelle cuisine, other items from beef to barbecue chicken to fresh fruit.

     

    sashimi-bamboosushi-portland-230

    A traditional deluxe sashimi plate. Photo courtesy Bamboo Sushi | Portland, Oregon.

     
    Sushi does not mean “raw fish,” but “vinegar[ed] rice.” While much of the fish used to make sushi is raw, some of the items are blanched, boiled, broiled, marinated or sautéed, either for a tender consistency or to kill any microscopic parasites.

    Sushi was originally developed as a snack food—as the story goes, to serve at gambling parlors so the gamblers could take quick bites without stopping the action. There are different styles of sushi:

  • Chirashi-sushi, fish and other items served on top of a bowl of vinegared sushi rice (chirashi means to scatter).
  • Maki-sushi, rolled sushi (including hand rolls, temaki—maki means roll).
  • Nigiri-sushi, slices of fish or other foods on pads of rice (nigiri means hand-formed).
  • Oshi-sushi, squares or rectangles of pressed rice topped with vinegared or cooked fish, made in a wooden mold (oshi means pushed or pressed).
  • Stuffed sushi, including chakin-zushi or fukusa-sushi, ingredients wrapped in a thin egg crêpe; and inari-sushi, with ingredients stuffed into a small pouch of fried bean curd (tofu).
     
    What Is Sashimi?

    Sashimi is sliced fish that is served with a bowl of regular boiled rice (no vinegar) on the side. The word sashimi means “pierced body”: sashi means pierced or stuck, and mi means body or meat. It may derive from the culinary practice of keeping the fish’s tail and fin with the cut slices to identify the fish being eaten.

    Sashimi fish is cut into thicker pieces, since it neither has to drape over a rice nor curve into a roll.

    Check out the different types of sushi and sashimi in our glossary.

      

  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fish Fillet Vs. Fish Steak

    salmon-filet-dailyperricone-230

    A salmon fillet: no bone, but skin on the
    bottom. Photo courtesy DailyPerricone.com.

     

    You’ll note that some fish recipes, like the one below for Pretzel-Crusted Tuna, call for fish steaks. Other recipes call for fillets. What’s the difference?

    It’s all about the cut.
     
    FISH FILLET

  • To fillet (it’s a verb as well as a noun), the flesh is cut whole away from the backbone of the fish by cutting lengthwise along one side, parallel to the backbone.
  • Fillets do not contain any pieces of the larger bones, but some species have smaller, intramuscular bones (called pins) within the flesh.
  • Butterfly fillets are a specialty cut, produced by cutting the fillets on each side in such a way that they are held together by the flesh and skin of the belly.
  • The skin may be removed before the fish is filleted.
  •  

    What’s the difference between a fillet and a filet?

    Just the language, which impacts spelling and pronunciation. Fillet (FILL-it) is English and filet (fee-LAY) is French.

     

    FISH STEAK

  • With a steak, the flesh is cut crosswise (perpendicular to the spine), cutting through the bone. The resulting steak may include a piece of bone and skin, or it can be boneless and skinless, especially with larger fish.
  • Steaks are usually cut with fish that are larger than 10 pounds.
  • With very large fish (a swordfish or tuna can be hundreds of pounds, if not 1,000 pounds or more), a cross-cut is too large for a single serving. With such large fish, the steaks are cut into smaller pieces that resemble fillets, but are more even/rectangular.
  •  
    IS ONE BETTER THAN THE OTHER?

    Considered more elegant in appearance than steaks, fillets have been traditionally used by restaurant chefs. More casual eateries are more likely to use salmon steaks these days; and of course, they’re in your grocer’s fresh and frozen fish cases.

     

    salmon-steak-tbilisi.all.biz-230

    A salmon steak. Photo courtesy Tbilisi.all.biz.

     

    However, more than a few people claim that bone-in beef steaks taste so much better than boneless cuts. So why wouldn’t it be the same with bone-in fish?

    This article does a very good job of explaining why the argument for bone superiority may be specious.

    There are also recipes that require one or the other by definition. Fish and chips, for example, requires fillets.

    A final consideration: Because they are thicker than fish fillets, fish steaks are less likely to fall apart when cooking. Cod, dorado (mahi-mahi), tuna, larger varieties of salmon, and swordfish are typically cut into steaks.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Pretzel Crusted Tuna

    pretzel-crusted-ahi-bonefishgrill-230r

    A delicious way to prepare tuna steaks: with
    a pretzel crust! Photo courtesy Bonefish Grill.

     

    Beyond panko: Turn pretzels into a tasty crust for seared fish.

    We love the appeal of this seared tuna recipe from Bonefish Grill. Not only do we love tuna; but the pretzels offer a fun alternative to the sesame crusted tuna recipe we typically use.

    We endeavored to recreate the recipe at home, and discovered that:

  • The recipe can be used with any thick fish fillet or steak.
  • It is easiest to crush pretzel sticks; thin and uniform, they crush quickly and evenly.
  • But you can use any pretzel. We also tried the gluten-free Pretzel Crisps we had on hand, and whole wheat pretzels from Snyder’s Of Hanover (which also makes GF pretzel sticks).
  • Our favorite crust was made from Utz sesame pretzels. But we think our choice going forward will be to add some toasted sesame seeds to whole wheat pretzels.
  • Don’t add much salt to the red wine sauce, unless you’re using salt-free pretzels. Otherwise, there’s plenty of salt in the pretzel crust.
  • Check out the history of pretzels, below. Without prayers and kids, we wouldn’t have them.
  •  
    RECIPE: PRETZEL-CRUSTED TUNA

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 2 tuna steaks
  • 1 cup crushed pretzels
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  •  
    For The Sauce

  • 1 shallot
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or canola oil
  • Pinch salt
  •  

    Preparation

    1. Pulse the pretzels in a food processor to the consistency of bread crumbs. Set aside.

    2. MAKE the sauce: Mince the shallot and heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until soft. Then add the wine and deglaze the pan. Simmer the sauce for three minutes so the alcohol evaporates and the sauce thickens.

    3. HEAT a cast iron skillet over high heat and add the butter or oil. Press the tops of the tuna steaks into the pretzel crumbs to coat. When the fat starts to smoke, place the fish face down in the pan.

    4. COOK for 4-5 minutes top down, then flip over and cook for another 3 minutes to serve rare, as they do at Bonefish Grill.

    5. SERVE with the sauce on the side, so the crumbs stay crisper.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SKILLET & A FRYING PAN

    It’s this easy: A skillet has slanted sides. A frying pan, also called a sauté pan, has straight sides that are higher than the skillet’s. (For this recipe, use whatever you have.)

    Why the two different side shapes?

    Frying/Sauté Pan Benefits

     

    homemade-pretzels-ws-230

    Dough for the original pretzels, called pretiola, were twisted to resemble a child’s arms folded in prayer. Photo courtesy Williams Sonoma. Here’s a recipe to bake your own homemade soft pretzels.

     
    If both pans are the same size, the frying/sauté pan will have a slightly larger surface area. In a 12-inch diameter pan, it can make the difference when fitting in pieces of chicken or other food, so you can cook everything in one batch.

    The other benefits of a frying/sauté pan: Liquids are less likely to splash out of the higher, straight sides; and lids fit more tightly, limiting evaporation.

    Skillet Benefits

    Chefs prefer the sloping sides of a skillet for quick cooking techniques like stir-frying, where the ingredients need to be moved around continuously. A skillet is also a better option for a frittata, served straight from the pan.

    It is a fun fact in cooking that a skillet is better for sautéeing than a sauté pan. The sloping sides make it easier to move pieces of food around while constantly stirring, and to more easily shake the pan to toss the food for even cooking. For the best sear, choose a cast iron skillet. It gets hotter than other metals.

    You can, of course, sauté your food in a straight-sided sauté pan, but it requires more work: constant stirring and turning.

    Guessing that the straight-sided frying pan may have come first, and the skillet adapted for greater flexibility, we tried to locate the facts. What we found was this, in Wikipedia:

    Before the introduction of the kitchen stove in the mid-19th century, a commonly used cast iron cooking pan called a spider had a handle and three legs used to stand up in the coals and ashes of the fire. Cooking pots and pans with legless, flat bottoms were designed when cooking stoves became popular; this period of the late 19th century saw the introduction of the flat cast iron skillet.

    Related Pans

    Professionals use a sauteuse (saw-TOOZ), a pan that combines the best higher sides of the sauté pan and the sloping sides of the skillet. It is also called a fait-tout (fay-TOOT), which literally means that it “does everything”.”

    Finally, mention must be made of the grill pan. It’s a frying pan with very low sides and series of parallel ridges on the cooking surface, which both enables cooking with radiant heat like a grill, and allows the fat to drain down.

     
    THE HISTORY OF PRETZELS

    It was all for the kids. In 610 C.E., monks in the what is today southern France northern Italy twisted and baked scraps of dough as a reward for children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers.

    The shape represented the monks’ concept of a child’s arms folded in prayer. The monks called this soft, baked dough a “pretiola,” Latin for “little reward.”

    The word evolved into the Italian “brachiola,” which means “little arms.” Over the next few centuries, the pretiola journeyed through the French and Italian wine regions, crossed the Alps, traveled through Austria and arrived in Germany, where it became known as the Bretzel or Pretzel.

    Here’s more of pretzel history.

      

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