Monday, March 19, 2012

Beyond the four seasons

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.                                
                                                                                   Henry David Thoreau

Yes, spring is here.  That brief, elusive period in central Texas that is gone before you can say "heat rash."  It is only March and already I've been using air conditioning in my car.  My neighbors and friends have started using air conditioning in their houses.  But I just can't bring myself to do it yet.

Hummingbirds are near!

The last time I experienced four seasons was when I lived in upstate New York.  There, I felt a clear demarcation between summer and fall, winter and spring; spring was so welcomed after a long, dark, harshly cold, interminably snowy winter in which too many watery, half-hearted stews and soups feebly limped to the dinner table, their flavor and robustness (and my psyche) diminished by the brutal, icy blasts.  Here, in central Texas, spring slid in slyly after a very mild winter, sort of like a latecomer to Sunday morning church services, surreptitiously and almost penitent.  But this winter was one in which we suffered not nearly enough penance with the electric company.  I'm anticipating that that will be rectified with summer cooling bills, however, having been traumatized by last summer's almost interminable drought.

But let's change seasons.  Or, as John Cleese would say, "And now for something completely different..."

One of my wine guys, who has become a good friend to share food and wine with, loves to cook.  He often, flatteringly, approaches me for suggestions and advice on how to season foods he is preparing for his family.  He has requested at least twice that I write a post on which seasonings and spices pair well with various proteins and vegetables.

The reason I've stalled on this, I think, is because there are so many choices that it would be impossible to do an exhaustive list.  So common sense tells me to just start somewhere.  But where to start?  It is during these kinds of tasks that my adult ADD diagnosis is confirmed.

So, Bastrop Wine Guy, here is my attempt to help you out.  We'll start with swimmers, diggers, burrowers, crawlers and bottom-feeders.

Fish Fillets and Steaks:

Generally, lighter, less oily fish, such as talapia, basa, catfish, flounder, sole, etc. can take on a large variety of seasonings because they are a neutral medium that will carry flavors well.  Here are some combinations that I've tried that have worked well:

~ Dill, minced shallot, butter, S & P to broil, bake or grill.
~ Lemon slices and dill with S & P to broil, bake or grill.
~ Any kind of richly flavored compound butter.  For any reason.
~ Chopped tomato, orange juice, minced red onion, EVOO, capers, kalamata olives and rosemary.
~ Mayo mixed with any kind of seasoning (don't over look fresh citrus zest), spread on fish fillets, sprinkled with panko and/or grated cheese and broiled.
~ Chopped tomato, red onion, kalamata olives, lemon juice, EVOO and feta cheese as a "sauce" to bake or broil.
~ S & P, powdered ginger, drizzle with butter or EVOO, slices of lime or lemon to bake, grill or broil.
~ Brown butter, toasted almonds and capers for delicate, pan fried fillets.
~ Butter, minced shallot or green onion, white wine (simmer until reduced by 1/2); finish with chopped fresh herbs (tarragon is especially nice).
~ Basil or spinach pesto and Asiago, Parmesan or Romano cheese.
~ Simple mango or fresh tomato salsa with lots of EVOO.
~ Slivers of aromatic vegetables and herbs, a pat of butter, S & P, a splash of dry white wine.  Wrap in parchment or heavy duty foil and bake until tender.
~ Simply seasoned broiled or grilled fish with a fresh chopped herb salad (tossed with a little fresh lemon juice, EVOO, S & P) and served on top the the fish.
~ Fresh fennel sliced very thin, S &P, butter to bake or broil.
~ Use any good quality store-bought vinaigrette for marinating/baking sauce.
~ Wrap fish in toasted banana leaves and grill after spreading cilantro pesto and chopped green and black olives, or use a commerically produced Thai curry paste (choose yellow, red or green) that has been thinned to spreading consistency with a little coconut milk.
~ Tikka masala paste (find in ethnic foods section) mixed with yogurt and spread on fish to bake or broil.
~ Creme fraiche or thinned sour cream mixed with a generous dollop of grainy mustard, minced garlic, minced shallot, capers, S & P and chopped fresh parsley as a sauce to bake fish fillets.
~ Mint, cucumber, sour cream/yogurt, S & P as a sauce after grilling fish that is simply seasoned with S & P.

Shrimp and shellfish love intense flavors, such as:

~ Fresh minced garlic, cracked pepper, EVOO, fresh lemon juice, fresh rosemary to grill or broil.
~ Smoked paprika, minced fresh garlic, EVOO, S & P.
~ Bacon (cooked crisp and crumbled) with anything: thyme, minced garlic, cracked pepper; minced garlic, breadcrumbs, freshly grated Parmesan or Romano; a splash of Pernod or any pastis-type liqueur, chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, EVOO, S & P, finish with freshly grated Parmesan; pico de gallo, lime juice, Monterey Jack cheese; finely chopped cooked spinach, dill, S & P, EVOO, grated cheese of your choice, get the picture.
~ Good quality store bought vinaigrette for marinating shrimp (my personal favorite is La Madeleine balsamic vinaigrette or Newman's Own anything).
~ Coarsely chopped cilantro, green onions, fresh ginger, garlic a bit of jalapeno or serrano pepper; add fresh lime juice and oil for a marinade for shrimp.

Heavier, more oily fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, swordfish and halibut can take more seasoning.  Try some of these ideas:

~ Marinate salmon and trout in bourbon or scotch with a little brown sugar and kosher salt.  Smoke or grill.
~ Make a loose "sauce" of chopped juiced and seeded ripe tomatoes, chopped parsley, minced garlic, capers, EVOO, salt and pepper; use to top grilled or broiled fish.
~ Make a tapenade: finely chop together pitted kalamata or nicoise olives, roasted red peppers, capers, fresh basil; add some anchovy paste (optional) and enough EVOO to bind; use tapenade after grilling or broiling fish as a topping.
~ Miso paste (don't choose blonde--too delicate) thinned with soy sauce and a little sesame or peanut oil as a coating for tuna before it's broiled or grilled.
~ Tamari, ginger, scallion and black sesame seeds for tuna as a marinade before it's broiled or grilled.
~ Any compound butter (i.e., grainy mustard butter, fresh tarragon and chive butter, rosemary butter, etc.).
~ Soy sauce, fresh minced ginger, lemon zest, minced garlic, Dijon mustard and a little peanut oil is especially good as a marinade on swordfish and halibut.

So, I've emptied my brain on seafood for the moment.  Check back for more installments on poultry, meats and veggies.  May your tastebuds dance the Sazon!

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