Mediterranean White Fish Salad

Mediterranean White Fish Salad

I visted the farmers’ market this morning and found some nice romaine lettuce and slender green onions (amongst other things) and decided to make this quick salad for lunch – before, hopefully, heading out to the lake with some friends.

Ingredients, for the fish:

  • white fish filet (I used swai, from frozen; tilapia would be a good choice as well)
  • lemon juice
  • dill
  • mint leaves, finely chopped
  • rosemary
  • fennel seed
  • oregano
  • green onion, whites cut finely
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • kyopoolu (I used Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread;
    You can also find kyopoolu or avjar at Polish, Bulgarian, etc. delis or stores.)

Ingredients for the salad:

  • romaine lettuce
  • green onions, greens cut finely
  • kalamata olives
  • balsamic vinaigrette dressing
  • olive oil

To prepare:

Pat the filet mostly dry and coat liberally with all the spices, i.e., everything but the green onion and kyopoolu, as if you were making blackened fish, for instance.  In a cast iron or other skillet on medium high heat, pan fry the filet in olive oil.  When the fish is nearly done (flip to cook both sides), add the green onion to the hot pan and spread a teaspoon or two of kyopoolu on onse side of the filet, and flip that side down briefly.

Here, I served the fish filet atop a salad of the ingredients above, drizzled with some olive oil.

This was a tasty salad; I hope it inspires you to have a nice summertime lunches too. :)

Blackened Catfish Sandwich

Blackened Catfish Sandwich with tzatziki and pea shoots

Here’s a nice, simple, spicy catfish sandwich.

First spice a catfish filet generously with a mix of: oregano, thyme, granulated (dry) garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne powder to taste.  (I used a frozen swai filet, thawed in water, then patted dry.)

Pan fry the filet in oil (I used sunflower oil) on medium-high heat, until it is cooked through and possible to flake with a fork.  The hotter the pan, the more likely the spice mix will blacken.

Place the filet atop a nice roll and top as you like.  I smeared the sliced roll with a homemade tzatziki sauce (greek yogurt, dried dill, minced garlic, salt, pepper) and added coarsely chopped fresh pea shoots (these typically being available from asian grocers.)

While I have only recently started using this asian catfish, sold in the U.S. as “swai,” it definitely has a wonderful taste and texture that rivals our american catfish and it cooks similarly, i.e., it is forgiving to pan fry owing to, I assume, it’s relatively high fat/oil content.

I like the combination of the spicy fish with the soothing, garlicky tzatziki sauce, and some sort of fresh greens; give it a try!

Blackened Catfish Sandwich

Tilapia Tostadas

Wow, I see I haven’t posted in 3 weeks!  I bet you were all worried, “Is Dave still eating?”

I offer this hiatus as evidence that I do have a job… actually, I was doing my research work and also had a nice week visit to San Diego for a workshop and to visit old and new friends.

So, lets catch up with some quick-and-dirty foods.

This one is simply a serving suggestion: tilapia tostadas… mashed black beans, shredded napa cabbage, queso fresco, and a tilapia filet (from frozen, defrosted in water and patted dry) lightly pan-fried in oil with oregano, salt, pepper, and a jalapeno hot sauce, and scallion greens, all atop a crisp corn tortilla.

One tip I have for you is to buy corn tortillas and bake them in the oven to crisp them, rather than using those “hard” deep-fried corn tortillas for tostadas.

Tea-Smoked Catfish

Tea-Smoked Catfish on Cucumber with Honey Tzatziki

Tonight I experimented with a Chinese cooking technique: tea smoking, that you can do indoors in your kitchen… if you want to stink up your house; ha ha, only kidding; my housemate arrived mid-smoke and said it smelled pretty good. :)

I learned about tea smoking on Chef Ming Tsai’s program, Simply Ming, perhaps a month or two ago.

First, tea smoking typically calls for a covered pan with a lid, and a screen or wire grill that can fit inside to suspend the fish or meat above the smoking materials.  I decided to use an old pan that I no longer use, and should have discarded because the non-stick surface is flaking off.  I figured it was perfect for this application since the food doesn’t come in contact with the pan’s surface and it has a tight fitting lid.

I lined the pan with two layers of aluminum foil, and placed the smoking materials in it: some uncooked Calrose rice, Darjeeling tea, brown sugar, and some tarragon leaves.  (The tarragon was once fresh, but that was a long time ago, so I thought cremating it was reasonable.)  I used Darjeeling, an Indian rather than Chinese tea, simply because that was the only leaf tea I had on hand.  I don’t see why you couldn’t use any tea, even ground tea leaves, though.

Ingredients and tea-smoking materials in a pan.

The fish I chose was an unusual kind of catfish, well, unusual to most Americans: it’s sold here by the name “Swai,” and is a typically farm-raised in the Mekong Delta region.  This fish is just a bit lighter and more flaky (less meaty texture) than U.S. catfish. While technically a catfish, it isn’t allowed to be sold by that name here because it competes with the U.S. farm-raised catfish.  If you’d like to know more about this increasingly popular and sometimes controversial fish, you can read more in my recipe for  Moo Shu Catfish.

I prepared the thawed fish filet (3-4 oz., about 1/2″ at its thickest point) by rubbing it with some five spice powder and brown sugar and placing atop napa cabbage leaves in a steamer to be placed in the smoking pan, with another layer of aluminum foil between the steamer and the smoking materials so that they don’t adhere to the steamer as they burn.  (I didn’t have a screen or wire rack, so I improvised by temporarily removing the plastic handles from my rice cooker’s steamer basket.)

Swai fillet atop napa cabbage, ready for smoking.

Next, I set the burner to a medium-high heat, and when it began to smoke a bit, covered the pan with a tight-fitting lid, reduced to medium heat, and cooked for 15 minutes; luckily the lid was just high enough to accommodate the steamer basket.

After those 15 minutes, I removed the pan from the heat and allowed it to sit another 15 minutes, then uncovered it.

The tea-smoked and cooked Swai fillet.

I served the filet on lightly salted, peeled cucumber slices (overlapped, otherwise they can’t be picked up with chopsticks!) and topped it with a simple tzatziki-like sauce of greek yogurt, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, and a touch of honey.  While I used fresh garlic here, I’d suggest using roasted garlic as the sauce’s garlic flavor was a bit harsh for this mild fish.

Tea-Smoked Catfish

So, the verdict? The fish was moist and tender with a significant smoky flavor, but quite unlike that of wood-smoked fish. It’s a tasty option. I do think, however, I would have experienced the smoky flavor more genuinely had I not been essentially standing in or over the smoke for a half hour or more just prior to dinner. :)

I’ll experiment with different rices and teas, and perhaps tea-smoke a brined Cornish game hen before baking it.

Lastly, I see why some tea smoking demonstrations suggest covering everything with foil (including the lid). The smoke mixes with the moisture and can make for a couple extra minutes of scrubbing during clean-up.  It’s super easy to just discard the foil instead.

Here are the recipes I consulted:

Asian Fish Tacos

I imagine you’re thinking, “Wow, Dave hasn’t made any asian dishes in a while…”
Not true.

Well, following my visit to no less than four grocery stores today, I am prepared to soon embark on new culinarily adventures, so I’m using up some of these fresh ingredients.

Asian Fish Tacos

I absolutely love fish tacos, thus made up these asian-fused-with-Tex-Mex fish tacos for lunch.
Typically fish tacos consist of three components atop corn tortillas: fish, a cabbage slaw, and a sauce.

For one serving (3 tacos), I first prepared a slaw from the following ingredients (approximately equal parts of the first 3 vegetables):

  • napa cabbage (3 leaves, green separated from white – see photos below, greens finely sliced/shredded)
  • carrot (1 medium, julienned)
  • bean sprouts (a small handful)
  • scallion greens
  • garlic (1 clove, minced)
  • rice vinegar (~2 T.)
  • hoisin sauce (~2 t.)
  • sesame oil (just a splash)
  • toasted sesame seeds or chopped toasted pine nuts (I used the latter)
  • lime zest (~1 t.)

Dissolve the hoisin sauce in the rice vinegar and toss with the rest of the slaw ingredients and let sit until needed.

For the sauce, simply mix equal parts of mayonnaise and chili garlic sauce.

I used about 2 t. each, per serving (i.e., 3 tacos) and taste-tested it… I think I decided to add half again as much chili sauce.  OK, that’s easy!

Chili Garlic Mayonnaise

For the fish, I chose a tilapia fillet (from frozen, thawed in water), and poached it in a salmon-and-vegetable-based fish stock along with a couple teaspoons of soy sauce.  Here, I had just separated some pieces to test for doneness (i.e., if it will flake apart.)  Concurrently, I warmed corn tortillas in a skillet, and then wrapped them in a towel; this keeps them from getting wet underneath, e.g., if set on a plate when they’re very warm.

Poaching tilapia in fish stock

Warming tortillas

Lastly, I assembled the tacos, topped with a dab more of chili garlic sauce and, as you can see, placed “points” of the white portion of a napa cabbage leaf under each taco.  While intended for presentation, this worked out nicely to support the taco in hand; otherwise, one often must resorts to using two tortillas per taco so that they don’t break when the moist ingredients are placed on top.

Napa cabbage "point."

These tacos were easy and delicious.  They’d probably be nice with mu shu pancakes or flour tortillas as well.

Pasta with Salmon & Cabbage


Pasta with Salmon & Cabbage

Here’s an easy and healthy pasta dish!

Ingredients: 1/3 pound pasta (dry), canola oil and rice vinegar (equal parts, 2-3 T. each), 1/4 medium head of green cabbage (shredded), 1 1/2 t. fennel seeds, ~1/2 pound boneless salmon pieces (fresh), salt and black pepper, splash of Pastis or some other anise-flavored liquor (optional).

I used Mrs. Miller’s brand Old Fashioned Extra Wide Homemade Noodles and fresh salmon pieces painstakingly trimmed from fin and bone pieces ($1.49/lb.) that I bought to (simultaneously) make fish stock for soup.

Prepare the pasta as directed.  When the pasta has perhaps 5 minutes left, lightly sauté cabbage in vinegar and oil (and Pastis) in pan over medium high heat, i.e., tender but not completely limp.  Add fennel and stir in raw salmon so it cooks slightly.  Add black pepper and salt; mix in drained hot pasta, stir lightly and remove from heat when salmon is cooked to your liking.  I served this topped this with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of dried dill.

Adapted from this recipe: Salmon Fettuccine Cabbage

Poached Tilapia with Creamy Shiitake Ragoût

Poached Tilapia with Creamy Shiitake Ragoût

I poached the tilapia fillets in the cream sauce with the vegetables, i.e., a sauce of vegetable stock, heavy cream, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, dijon mustard, fennel seed, thyme, salt and pepper. I used dried mushrooms, but the texure of fresh mushrooms would likely be better with this delicate fish.

I prepared couscous in vegetable stock and served it layered in the middle.

This was inspired by a related recipe for Pan-Seared Cod with Creamy Fennel Ragoût.

Fish Roe Fried Rice

Fish Roe Fried Rice

My awesome ex-housemate left some interesting things in the freezer… including pieces of grilled fish roe. (I had to ask her what it was; I had no idea.) She said it’s good with rice, I used just a bit (as shown on left, which was plenty for flavor) for this serving of fried rice. It thaws and disintegrates almost immediately, even in your hand, because it is porous and the eggs are so tiny. These broken pieces (left photo) are browned on one side, which was the outside of the egg mass, as seen in this photo of grilled fish roe:

Fried rice ingredients: canola and sesame oils, green cabbage, egg, scallion, sliced garlic, sticky rice, green peas, bean sprouts, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic sauce, black pepper, and grilled fish roe.

Moo Shu Catfish

Moo Shu Catfish

This is a delicious moo shu that I made with an asian variety of catfish.

To make this dish, pan-fry a light-flavored, white fish fillet in canola oil with thin strips of fresh ginger and a bit of chili garlic sauce, removing it as soon as it’s cooked and flakes easily.
In the same pan, deglaze with perhaps 1/3 cup thin sauce made of water, oyster sauce, honey, bean paste, and soy sauce and quickly stir-fry thinly-sliced cabbage, matchstick carrot, sliced scallion, thinly-sliced black mushroom, and bean sprouts. Remove while vegetables are still slightly crisp; flake the fish and add it to the mixture. (You might also add scrambled egg, as in many moo shu recipes.)
Serve wrapped with moo shu pancakes or in a flour tortilla as I did here, or with rice.

I bought the fish by the name “Swai”; it’s also known as basa, tra, panga (e.g., France) or pangasius, vietnamese river cobbler (U.K.?), and iridescent shark (although it’s a catfish, not a shark.) In the U.S., it is not allowed to be sold by the name “catfish” because it competes with U.S. catfish in the market.
It’s a commonly farmed fish in the Mekong Delta region.

I made Ginger Catfish previously, and this is likely the sort of fish that would be used in Vietnam.

Here’s some more info on the fish, which has gotten some scrutiny as it has become popular world-wide with a commensurate explosion in farming of it in asia. Perhaps surprisingly, it has become one of top ten most popular fish in the U.S., due to its flavor and low cost. (For instance, I bought a 6.5 ounce fillet for under $2.)

“What is Pangasius? Only the 9th most consumed fish in the USA”

“Pangasius hypophthalmus”

Here is a documentary film, critical of its farming, c. 2008:
“Qu’est ce qu’un Panga ?”

Fish Chowder

Fish Chowder

This is a thin, mild chowder with flavors of salmon, fennel, and thyme, and sweetness from tarragon and sweet corn.

First, I prepared a fish stock, roughly according to this recipe, except I used fresh tarragon rather than thyme:

“Traditional Fish Stock”

Then I used that fish stock rather than chicken broth according to this recipe:

“Salmon and Vegetable Chowder”

Other modifications: I substituted celery for zucchini and diced white onion for leek. My original intention was to make a salmon chowder, but having had only about a pound of salmon bones and fin portions (the butcher’s leftovers – hey, it cost $1) with only a modest amount of edible fish meat, I added 1/2 pound of bite-sized pieces of tilapia fillets. Also, I used slightly less fennel seed than the recipe suggested since a fair number of people seem to object to the flavor if it’s strong.

A tip: if you buy frozen tilapia fillets, I suggest thawing them in water instead of the microwave, because they can overcook easily and get a rubbery texture.