Something Fishy

It's fish. That's the joke.

I haven’t cooked a fish menu in a while.  Seemed like time.  If you’re a regular reader, you know I have a complex relationship with fish – meaning a lot of times I don’t really like fish.  I do love seafood.  That includes some fishes – just not all fish.  And not all fish prepared in … you know what? It doesn’t matter.

There’s good fish.  There’s bad fish.  Then there’s fish that’s gone bad.

All of us have probably experienced all of those at some point in our lives – that’s true whether we’re being metaphorical, or you know, actually talking about the stuff or our plates.  Probably. 

I keep vowing to cook more fish, more often.  That’s a difficult proposition living something like 500 miles from the nearest ocean.  Luckily, we have decent fishmongers at a couple of local markets.  That’s how I got to this week’s menu.  Rather than building a menu, and going in search of the ingredients, I rode my bike up to the fishmonger, came home with panniers full of seafood (and bread and cheese and a sack of paw-paws … but that’s all for another time) and built it up from what they had that looked good. 

It’s a fun exercise, coming up with dishes from the ingredients that look the best.


Pull-apart Milk Bread with Shichi-mi Tōgarashi and Garlic Butter

This isn’t the first time I’ve included Milk Bread in an edition of The Weekly Menu.  I shared a recipe for milk bread with seaweed butter back in March, but this is a slightly different take on the almost impossibly tender bread.  The magic of milk bread is the use of a pre-cooked portion of flour and milk – call it a roux, or call it tangzhong (which is what it’s really called) that makes the dough extra tender and the way the dough is usually rolled – making it sort of pull apart when warm.

I thought it’d be fun to toss in a different sort of magic and make it even more pull apart.  So this is a version of one of those recipes you see in viral videos.  Only instead of some sort of dough from a can, we’re using milk bread dough.  And instead of cinnamon sugar, or pizza sauce, or pudding, or any one of the myriad of odd (and probably delicious) things people on the internet are slapping together with dough, we’re going to use a garlic butter spiked with Japanese Seven Spice powder - Shichi-mi tōgarashi.  It’s a funky, spicy, unusual flavor, and in the end it’s pretty subtle against the backdrop of the milk bread dough, but it’s a good sort of subtle.

3 cups plus 1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 ½ cup whole milk, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp  granulated sugar
2 tbsp powdered non-fat milk
2 ½ tsp instant dry yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
Additional bench flour

Wish together 1 tbsp all purpose flour and ½ cup whole milk in a pan over medium heat.

Cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is fully hydrated and the mixture cooks into a thick paste.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Add 1 cup of warmed milk, 2 ½ tsp yeast, and 2 tsp sugar to the  bowl of a stand mixer. 

Allow to rest for 5 minutes for the yeast to fully dissolve.

Add 3 cups of all purpose flour, the milk powder, salt, and melted butter to the mixer.

Process on low speed until the mixture is fully mixed, then allow the mixer to knead the dough for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth.

Turn the dough out into a covered container and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and divide into 4 even pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, Roll the pieces into 2-inch-thick logs.

Working one log at a time, cut the log into 8 even disks.

Roll each disk into an oval. 

Brush one side of the oval with Shichi-mi Tōgarashi Garlic Butter, then fold the oval in half.

Brush one side of the folded dough with the garlic butter mixture.

Place the buttered dough piece, fold down, against one end of a greased or non-stick mini loaf pan.

Repeat until all 8 pieces are rolled, buttered, folded, and fitted in the pan, with the folds at the bottom of the pan, and the open end of the pieces facing the open top.

Repeat for the remaining three logs of dough.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Place the pans, lightly covered, and a warm place and allow them to proof until puffy and nearly at the top of the pans.

Whisk the egg ok with 1 tbsp cool water.

Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash mixture.

Bake until well browned on top – about 25-30 minutes.

Brush with any remaining garlic butter mixture and serve warm.

Shichi-mi Tōgarashi Garlic Butter

1 tsp Shichi-mi tōgarashi
4 tbsp softened unsalted butter
1 clove garlic

Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic.

Melt the butter.

Combine the melted butter, seven spice, and the garlic.

Keep warm to prevent congealing.

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Tempura Prawns with Grapefruit Ponzu

It’s weird what you remember from childhood.  Though I was picky about seafood as a kid, I liked shrimp. I liked shrimp cocktail, and the big piles of fresh from the dock shrimp boiled and dumped out on newspaper we’d get at the beach every year.  But really my strongest shrimp memory – at least before Forest Gump – was of Red Lobster ads for shrimpfest, or whatever they called it.  I watched those ads, and I wanted a big pile of fried shrimp, or that magically sizzling plater of scampi swimming in butter. 

It’s a strong memory because we never actually went to Red Lobster. 

I still love shrimp.  It’s why there’re already a bunch of shrimp recipes in past editions of this newsletter.  One of my favorite preparations is the tempura fried whole prawns (head and all) that you’ll find at some sushi restaurants.  When I saw head on prawns at the fish market this weekend, I knew that’s where I was going – in fact the thread of east and southeast Asian flavors throughout this menu is simply because I wanted to make sushi-restaurant style shrimp tempura.  The rest of it just followed.

This tempura recipe is roughtly based on Kenji Lopez-Alt’s technique. I add tumeric because I like to color contrast and it adds a milk warm flavor to the batter. If you want you shrimp to stay straight, use skewers pushed through the tail and body, then remove after frying.

12 head on prawns
½  cup all purpose flour
½  cup corn starch
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp turmeric
¼ cup vodka
½ cup ice cold soda water
Shredded daikon radish and herbs as garnish.

Prepare a fryer with oil at 350°F.

Remove the shells and swimmers from the shrimp tails.

In a bowl large enough to dip a shrimp, mix the flour, corn starch, salt, and tumeric.

Stir in the vodka.

Stir in the soda water just until fully mixed.

Dip the shrimp into the batter and immediately place into the hot oil.

Fry until the batter is crisp and the shrimp is firm and fully colored (you should be able to see through the batter)
Serve immediately

Grapefruit Ponzu

1 large grapefruit
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 2x2 inch piece dry kelp (kombu)
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin (Japanese cooking wine)

Use a sharp knife or peeler to peel just the zest from the grapefruit, avoiding the white pith as much as possible.

Cut the zest into thin strips.

Add the strips and the sugar to a zip top bag, massage to coat the zest with sugar, press out all the air and allow to sit at least 4 hours and up to overnight, then strain the resulting syrup and discard the zest.

Juice the grapefruit.

Pour ¼ cup boiling water over the kombu and allow it to steep until cool.

To finish, mix the soy sauce, mirin, 4 tbsp of the kombu steeping liquid, 2 tbsp grapefruit juice, and ½ tsp of the syrup extracted from the zest.

Taste and adjust sweetness/seasoning as needed. 

Use as a dipping sauce.

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Mussels with Pork, Chilis, and Lemongrass Broth

When Kate and I lived in Washington DC, one of our regular “date night” spots was a Belgian themed moules frites palace a not-to-long walk from our house on the hill.  In fact, we went there on one of our first dates.  They had great Belgian beers, and phenomenal mussels and fries.  We even took my parents there on one visit.  Pretty sure we saw Dave Grohl there that night, which I remember because I then spent a long time trying to explain to my parents who Dave Grohl was and why he was famous. 

Pretty sure I failed.

This dish is a play on two different mussels preparations I’ve had over the years – a sort of mashup of mussels with chorizo and mussels with lemongrass.  It’s mussels with lemongrass and a spic sausage that’s not chorizo and … it’s really good.  Like way better than I expected it to be.  Dip some of that milk bread from above into the broth and live happily ever after.

1 lb mussels, purged and cleaned
½ lb spicy pork sausage (recipe below)
4 cups lemongrass broth (recipe below)
2 green onions
1 tbsp julienned fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
4 red chili peppers (Fresno, or red jalapeno)

Cilantro for garnish

Peel, trim, and chop the garlic.

Trim the root ends from the onion, separate the white and green parts, then finely slice the white parts – reserving the green portions for garnish.

Thinly slice the chili peppers, discarding the stem end.

Add the pork sausage to a large pot over medium heat.

Cook, stirring frequently to break up and crumble the sausage, until the sausage is lightly browned.

Add the ginger, sliced green onion, and garlic to the pot, and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the mussels and 4 cups of lemongrass broth to the pot.

Cook, covered, until all mussels have opened.

To serve, ladle mussels into bowls, top with additional cooking liquid, and garnish with sliced chilies, sliced green onion tops, and cilantro.

Lemongrass Broth

4 ½ cups water
2 green onions
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger
1 4-inch piece lemongrass
4 lime leaves
2 tsp Thai roasted chili paste
1 tbsp fish sauce

Bruise the lemon grass with the back of a knife, then cut into long strips.

Slice the ginger into ¼ inch thick disks.

Trim the root end from the onions and cut into 4-6 inch pieces.

Add the water, onions, ginger, lime leaves, and sliced lemongrass to a pot over medium heat. 

Bring to a low simmer and cook covered for 1 hour.

Strain and discard the solids. 

Stir in the chili paste and fish sauce.

Spicy Pork Sausage

½ lb ground pork
1 tbsp red chili flake
1 tbsp ice water
1 tsp rice wine or coconut vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp five spice powder
½ tsp lemongrass paste*
1 tsp fish sauce
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined.

Place in a tightly covered container and allow to rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before using.

*You can buy lemongrass paste in a tube at many groceries, or simply mince whole lemongrass very finely.

Mirin Poached Monkfish with Curry Soubise

A lot of recipes go out of the way to describe monkfish as “poor man's lobster” and aside from the fact that poor folks deserve lobster just as much as the rest of it, it’s not an entirely bad description.  The meat is firm and sweet, with a delicate flavor that’s pretty decidedly unfishy.  I like that about it.

But what I really like about monkfish is that the fish itself is an insanely ugly sea monster that looks like something that haunted my dreams after a childhood visit to the seaquarium.  I mean these things are legendarily ugly. You know those guys you see on TV throwing fish at Pike Place market in Seattle?  The same fishmonger put out a monkfish, rigged it’s mouth to open on a string, and scared the crap out of tourists.  It worked as a sales gimmick.  I bought some monkfish.  I wanted revenge.

I had originally planned on serving the monkfish poached with an onion soubise – an improbable throwback sauce that’s essentially just onions, all onions, and almost nothing that’s not onions.   I recently developed a chicken with onion soubise recipe for The Chicken Thigh Guy and thought it would be fun to do a white on white dish.

Then I got thinking about Japanese curry.

Then I just went and mashed the two together.  It stopped being white on white.

A note, the turmeric in the sauce is really just there for color – to make it more yellow and less brown than it would be with just the Japanese curry powder I started with.  It adds a little flavor, but you can leave it out if you want.

4 4-oz pieces of monkfish, trimmed
1 bunch swiss chard
1 small English/hothouse cucumber
4 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup mirin
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt divided
Fresh herbs for garnish

Peel, seed, and finely dice the cucumber.  Dress the cucumber with 1 tsp rice vinegar.

Wash, and chop the chard into small pieces, discarding the thick stem pieces.

Prepare a large pot of heavily salted water and an ice bath.

Blanch the chard for 30 seconds in boiling water, then shock in the ice bath.

Drain the chard, and squeeze out as much water as possible.

In a small pan over low heat, whisk together the mirin, salt, and butter – working until the butter is melted and a smooth emulsion has formed.

Add the monkfish pieces to the butter and mirin mixture and cook over low heat, turning once, until the fish is cooked through – the time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish.

Add the chard, 1 tsp of the fish poaching liquid, and the fish sauce to a new pan over high heat and cook until heated through.

Plate the chard and fish, drape with curry soubise, and top with diced cucumber and fresh herbs.

Curry Soubise

1 medium white onion
1 cup water
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp madras or Japanese curry powder
½  tsp kosher salt
½ tsp turmeric powder

Peel, trim, and thinly slice the onion.

Add 1 tbsp of unsalted butter to a thick bottomed pan over low heat.

Once the butter has melted, add the sliced onion and 1 tsp of kosher salt to the pan.

Cook on low heat, stirring frequently to avoid browning, until the onion is very soft – about 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup of water to the pan and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Transfer the onion mixture to the container of a blender, and process until very smooth.

Return the puree to the pan along with the curry powder, turmeric, and cream.

Bring to a low simmer and cook until the mixture is very thick.  

Keep warm until ready to serve, or gently reheat before service.