Monday, March 05, 2007

Cajun Salmon & Herb Marinated Calamari

*Just Braise has moved. Please visit me at!*

It is often that when I buy seafood I tend to go a little crazy. The briny smell, the lobsters swimming around, the gracious smiles and even the slight attitude I get when I ask something possibly(?) silly like, “what does that taste like?” Response: “White fish.” Or: “How do I cook this?” Response: “However you like.” Or my recent favorite, “I’m cooking this with capers, do you have capers?” Response: “I don’t even know what that is lady.” It all makes for that authenticity that screams burly fisherman and has me coming back for more than I really need.

Okay, so my local fishmonger spends little to no time on a boat actually fishing. More of it is spent “fishing” up in the Bronx at the newly relocated Fulton Fish Market. Still, entering the place is like hanging out with the boys on the docks—on a recent visit I overheard a few stories about the original Woodstock and how the “experience” was “a total trip.” I can guess a few enhancers that would lead to “trippy experiences” that my friendly fisherman might have partaken in. Instead, I kindly smiled and asked for a pound of calamari, cleaned, yes, thank you. And a pound of salmon too please.

While the two in combination are not totally exotic, they started to sound really good when I put words like “cajun blackening” and “Thai herb marinated” in front of them, albeit spicey. It also helps to have a winning cookbook (that’s right, The Cook’s Book, where every recipe is clearly laid out with fabulous photography and claims both these recipes as a cinch to make (which is true).

With a helper tuned to the task at hand, this meal can be whipped up in about 30 minutes, less if you are really on cue. The procession:

Person 1: Prep/ marinate salmon, prep/ marinate calamari.
Person 2: Prepare salad
Together: Prepare fish. The calamari takes a mere 3 minutes to cook and the salmon 6. If you start the salmon, get the calamari going, flip the salmon, remove calamari, the salmon is just about done, all remains hot to serve and you’re good to go.

Throw in a new favorite quick salad (our own invention) this meal is golden-- or better yet, a deliciously trippy experience.

The salmon and calamari recipe are as they appear in The Cook’s Book. When I made this I bought 1 pound of calamari and almost 1 pound of salmon and cut the salmon into 4 fillets. This meal was a satisfying dinner and an even better lunch the next day. It will definitely be made again. The salmon looks daunting, but many of the spices are staples (or should be) or could possibly be left out.

Serving Size= 4. Active time= about 20 minutes. Cook time= about 8 minutes.
* 1 tablespoon ground cumin
* 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
* 1 tablespoon dried ground garlic
* 2 tablespoons paprika or pimento (smoked Spanish paprika)
* 1 tablespoon coarsely ground white or black pepper
* 1 tablespoon dried thyme
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 2 tablespoons fine salt
* 4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz each (skinned)
* vegetable oil

1) Mix together all spices, herbs and salt. Using half the mixture [per side], rub into both sides of the pieces of salmon and lay them on a tray. Cover and leave at room temperature for up to 30 minutes.
2) Heat a heavy-based frying pan over high heat until very hot. Brush the pan with oil, then place the fillets in the pan. Let cook for 2 minutes without moving them. Turn the fish over, cover the pan, and cook for 2 more minutes. The spices will have blackened and the fish will be barely cooked inside. Transfer the salmon to warm plates and serve. [We cooked ours 3 minutes each side and they came out perfect, cooked almost all the way through.]

Serving Size= 4. Active time= about 8 minutes. Cook time= about 2 minutes.
* 1-½ heaped teaspoons white peppercorns [use about half if you only have black or mixed]
* ½ teaspoon salt
* 1 garlic clove
* handful of Thai basil [regular tastes good too]
* handful of cilantro, including roots, steams and leaves
* 14 oz squid, cleaned, then body finely sliced into rings and tentacles separated
* 2 teaspoons peanut oil
* 1 teaspoon nam pla (fish sauce)
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped or grated pale palm sugar [I omitted this ingredient]

1) Lightly pound the peppercorns, salt and garlic in a mortar with a pestle until combined. Add the basil and cilantro, and work into a chunky paste [alternately a food processor can be used]. Put the quid into a bowl and coat with the paste. Leave at room temperature for 15 minutes.
2) Heat a wok until smoking. Add half the oil and swirl it around. Add half the squid and cook over high heat for 30 seconds, tossing it a little. Tip the squid into a bowl. Wipe the wok clean, then cook the remaining squid in the same way.
3) Return the first batch of squid to the wok and add the fish sauce and palm sugar. Toss together and cook for 20 seconds longer.

Serving Size= 4. Active time= about 8 minutes.
* ½ small red cabbage, thinly sliced (alternatively, a fennel bulb is delicious)
* 1 orange, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
* 1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
* juice of ½ a lemon
* 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
* ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
* 1 teaspoon anise seeds (if using fennel bulb omit this)
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Slice the vegetable and fruit. Put everything into a bowl, toss and serve.

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