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January 2012 COTM: Essential Pepin: Shellfish and Fish

Please use this thread to discuss and review recipes from the chapter about shellfish and fish.

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  1. Lobster Couscous with Chive Sauce (half recipe) p. 174


    I was drawn to this recipe because of the addition of tomalley to the couscous - a tomalley flavored couscous sounded incredible.

    Even though I only made half a recipe (one 2 pound lobster), I used the whole 3 quarts of water and mistakenly chose to use my dutch oven instead of the stock pot. Bring the water to a boil and add the lobster. Because I used the dutch oven the 3 quarts of water did not cover the lobster, so I added another quart. Cover and bring back to a boil, reduce heat to low and boil for 5 minutes. Off the heat, the lobster rests in the liquid for 20 minutes. I was nervous about the lobster. Would it be cooked through or overcooked? The lobster was easily extracted and not overcooked (whew!). Reduce the lobster stock to 2 c (this took a while since I started with 4 quarts of water).

    To make the couscous, saute chopped onions for a few minutes, add tomalley and roe (reserved after extracting meat from the shells), mixing and crushing the roe, add couscous, boiling water, salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover and stand 10 minutes. I was disappointed that I could not taste the tomalley in the couscous and would save the tomalley for a little snack next time, but the flavor of the roe did come through. It reminded me of the Japanese use of tarako in recipes.

    Fluffed couscous is topped with lobster (gently reheated in the reduced lobster stock) and sauce (chives, olive oil, salt and pepper and reduced lobster stock). The lobster was sweet and tender and the chive sauce brought it all together. Overall, a nice dish, but not the stunner I was hoping for.

    1. Crab Cakes with Avocado Salsa, p. 165-166

      Made these for an intimate New Year's Eve supper last night. The recipe is quick and uncomplicated: lump crabmeat, mayo, and fresh bread crumbs are gently mixed with seasonings of s & p, dried thyme, Tabasco and fresh chopped chives. One-inch thick patties are then fried in oil over medium heat until both sides are nicely browned.

      Meanwhile, and it only takes a few minutes, a salsa is made by combining one chopped ripe avocado and a tomato together in a bowl; then a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, more oil, s & p, and 3 TBS of water are added and tossed together. To serve, the avocado salsa is spooned onto four individual plates, with more chopped chives sprinkled on top, and finally the finished crab cakes are placed on the whole. I couldn't resist sprinkling a few more chopped chives on top.

      Couldn't be much easier, and Mr. Goblin, a devotee of crab cakes, was enchanted with the delicacy and purity of the flavors. And not a hint of Old Bay Seasoning anywhere! ;-) The salsa is mild and suave---the only hint of heat comes from a discreet amount of Tabasco. The intro describes the recipe as "delicate to handle, elegant, and refined in taste," and this sums it up.

      I had no trouble with the cakes falling apart while shaping or cooking, but I did follow my usual practice which is to refrigerate the shaped cakes for 20-30 minutes before frying them. (You could make them ahead of time and refrigerate. ) I also substituted Canola oil for the recipe's suggested peanut oil because that's what I had. Finally, I did not find a suitable ripe tomato in the market so I substituted one from my frozen store of oven-roasted summer tomatoes.

      Bottom line: this version of crab cakes makes a chic and flavorful first course, with a hint of luxury (lump crabmeat and avocados!) "Refined and delicate" is what they are. It just "felt French."

      1 Reply
      1. re: Goblin

        Oh yes; here's the exact recipe for Crab Cakes with Avocado Salsa from the Essential Pepin site:


      2. Tuna Steaks with Peppercorns (page 199)

        This recipe intrigued me because of the peppercorn mix: 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon allspice berries. (This amount is given for four servings; I halved it for a single tuna steak and didn't have any left over.)

        I crushed the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. You brush the tuna with oil, then sprinkle it with salt and the crushed peppers. Cook in a very hot skillet for 1-1/2 minutes per side, let stand for 3 to 5 minutes, top with a pat of butter (I forgot the butter and didn't miss it), and serve.

        I liked this very much but I'm making a note to cook the tuna for just a bit less time. It wasn't quite as rare on the inside as I usually prefer it. The peppercorn mix was certainly interesting and I adore Szechuan pepper. Not all that sure about the allspice, though. Maybe it was just so unexpected. Anyway, even though I thought this was very good and I would make it again, I didn't like it as much as the Seared Tuna in Black Pepper Crust from ENYT--although that may have had as much to do with the accompanying spinach and cannellini beans as with the fish itself which was coated in just cracked black pepper.

        1. Crusty Salmon on the Skin (page 194)

          I continue to be in clean-out-the-fridge-and-freezer mode and had all ingredients on hand except the tomato. I was going to skip it, when I saw what looked as though they might be decent ones at TJs.

          Make croutons in a nonstick pan. Put seasoned salmon fillets skin-side down in the same pan with no additional oil and cook for two minutes. Cover pan and cook for another two minutes. Plate fillets, sprinkle with the croutons, chopped tomato, caper berries, and chives. Add butter to the skillet and cook until lightly browned. Stir in some red wine vinegar, pour over the fish, and serve.

          Before I get to the punch line, let’s talk about caper berries. The ones I have are about the size of a large grape. From what I’ve read, that’s pretty much standard. This recipe, and the few others I’ve made that call for caper berries, don’t call for them to be sliced or chopped. Are they really meant to be eaten whole? This recipes calls for 8 caper berries for four fish fillets. Since I was making only one fillet, I used two caper berries. Leaving them whole just didn’t seem right, so I chopped them up. What would you have done?

          The salmon skin was delightfully crispy. I loved the added crunch of the croutons. The tomato was surprisingly good for this time of year, but I think it could have been left out. And the butter/vinegar topping was inspired.

          I served this with Cucumbers with Tarragon (page 428).

          Would I run out to buy the ingredients for this dinner? Probably not. Would I make it again if I had the ingredients on hand? In a heartbeat. Would I hesitate to play with it and perhaps just make the salmon with the butter/vinegar sauce? For sure.

          3 Replies
          1. re: JoanN

            Wow, JoanN, you take great food-photos. Makes me determined to have this for dinner very soon! With the cucumbers!

            1. re: Goblin

              Thanks, Goblin. I mostly use just a little point-and-shoot camera. So much easier and faster than setting up my digital SLR with the 50mm lens, which I bought specifically because I wanted to learn to take better food photos. But I discovered that you really need a light setup, too, and I just can't be bothered with all that. Not when I'm ready to sit down and eat.

            2. re: JoanN

              A very lovely looking dish JoanN!
              Interesting question about the caperberries. I love to chomp down on a whole berry, but it's usually in the form of a garnish. (I've even used one in a martini, in a pinch.) But if they don't seem like a garnish I think you made the right call in chopping them up.

            3. Tuna Steaks with Tapenade Coating (half recipe) p. 200

              http://blogs.kqed.org/essentialpepin/... -starts at the 3 minute 7 second point

              Tuna steak is topped with a tapenade (oil-cured black olives, kalamata, garlic, capers, anchovy and olive oil) and seared tapenade side down (the other side of tuna is seasoned with salt and pepper). One is to cover and cook the tuna one and a half minutes per side and finish in a 160 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. In the video he does not turn the fish, nor does he put it in the oven.

              I did not read the recipe very closely and seared the tuna as I normally would to medium-rare (on the skillet, uncovered and did not put the fish in the oven). The tuna is served on a bed of arugula topped with any additional pan drippings (had I covered my fish there would have been a little more drippings). This is the first time I’ve cooked tapenade on top of the fish and surprisingly most of it was still on when I went to turn the tuna. The result was a good -maybe even a little smokier than the raw tapenade. I’m glad I included the arugula too, it helped bring it all together and made sure my taste buds were not overwhelmed by the tapenade.

              In spite of my changes, this was a nice dish. Easy to make and no shopping required since I had tuna in the freezer that I defrosted earlier that morning and the rest of the items were in my pantry. I liked the tapenade very much. It was a nice combination of meaty and smoky from the oil-cured olives and fruity and briny from the capers and kalamatas. I’ll remember this tapenade the next time I’m looking for a simple snack to eat with toasted bread. In the video Jacques seasons the tapenade with pepper and adds a little oil from the anchovies which I may add next time.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BigSal

                I like the sound of this better than the steamed cod over tapenade I made last night. It sounds like the flavors were brought together in cooking, unlike in the cod dish.

                1. re: BigSal

                  Tuna Steaks with Tapenade Coating (half recipe) p. 200

                  Very tasty, fairly easy, and relatively fast.

                  I didn't have kalamata olives so I subbed standard green olives w/pimentos. I didn't feel like dirtying the mini-food processor for this small amount, plus I wasn't convinced I could control the texture very well, so I just chopped everything on the cutting board, smearing the garlic to make sure it got well distributed. I forgot to add the olive oil to the tapenade mixture, but didn't miss it.

                  I tried a variant on the his cooking technique, with mixed success. I seared the tuna steaks as directed, tapenade side down in a low Creuset pan. Then I flipped them over and put the pan in the oven to finish, rather than transferring the fillets to a platter. I thought the heavy Creuset plus the mild oven heat would be enough to finish them. In fact, I worried that they might overcook. But they were barely warm inside (80 degrees) after 10 minutes. So I put the pan back on direct heat for about 3 minutes which did the trick.

                  I served them over a large bed of arugula and sprinkled steamed butternut squash cubes around the steaks, which was gorgeous. (I cut a small piece of squash in smallish 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and steamed them in the microwave with a little water.) I'm sorry I didn't take a picture to show you. The sweet squash was a great counterpoint to the peppery arugula and briny tapenade.

                  I love the concept of cooking fish on low heat in the oven, but this is the second time I've tried it without success. I suspect that my oven doesn't maintain an even enough heat at that low temperature. I'm sure Jacques has a better oven, perhaps convection. If we ever remodel the kitchen and replace the oven, I'll give it a shot again. But for the basic ingredient combination, if not the cooking method, I'll call this recipe a winner.

                2. Grilled Swordfish with Spicy Yogurt Sauce, p. 205

                  This was lunch for one yesterday, so only one swordfish steak, but I made the full amount of the yogurt sauce.

                  The sauce is greek yogurt (nonfat in my case), lots of cilantro and fresh mint, garlic, ginger, a jalapeno (serrano) whizzed up in the mini chop with some salt. Swordfish is grilled for two minutes on each side then finished in the JP method with 10 minutes in the oven at 180. Since my oven is on the fritz, I did the whole thing on the grill, increasing cooking time to probably 3-4 times on each side. Swordfish is then served on top of the sauce with additional sauce on the side. I served it with treviso spears for dipping into the additional sauce as well.

                  This was delicious and very quick, but SPICY as a result of me subbing in the serrano and not de-seeding it (recipe didn't call for doing so for the jalapeno and I generally like things spicier than most recipes call for so I foolishly pressed on). Next time I would probably stick with the jalapeno and deseed it first so it didn't overwhelm the other flavors as much. But it was a delicious, healthy and quick lunch and I could see lots of uses for the yogurt sauce (it was also good later for dipping pita chips into). It was also very much in line with my new year's eating lighter goals (about 8 WW+ points for a 7 oz steak and 2/3 cup sauce for anyone tracking such things).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mebby

                    This is on my to-do list. Glad to see it is tasty AND healthy. I'm trying to make some healhier changes. A dish like this should help.

                  2. Grilled Tuna (Salmon) with Sage Butter pg 200

                    So, post holidays I'm really in a dumb nuts cooking kind of mood. This recipe (sans the Sea Bean Salad) really fit my inclination. Even more so, since I grilled the fish my way, i.e. flesh down for 1/3 of the time, flip and skin down for the remainder. Top with sage butter (chopped sage leaves, butter, lemon juice, salt & pepper all mashed together), let rest briefly in a warm oven. Delicious served with a lemony Caesar salad and a bottle Basa Blanco from Rueda.

                    Similar to some others last month, I had some trouble getting all of the lemon juice to incorporate into the butter, so to compensate, I just drizzled the extra lemon juice on the fish before grilling.

                    1. Steamed Cod on Tapenade, page 226.

                      I was drawn to this recipe because of the fig called for in the tapenade, it just struck my fancy.

                      The tapenade is made up of chopped oil-cured olives, anchovies, capers, and black figs, tossed with a bit of olive oil, water, and black pepper. The cod is steamed, placed on the tapenade, and topped with tomato strips and basil chiffonade.

                      Now this was a perfectly edible dish. The tapenade was very good, I could see using it again; the small amount of fig imparted a surprisingly figgy flavor in each bite. But the cod just sat there, and the flavors didn't really marry. Yes, you could get a bite of tapenade and a bite of fish on the fork, and it was tasty. But I've done several similar recipes from other COTMs where the fish is cooked with vegetables and/or olives, and the flavors truly meld. I can think of three other dishes offhand, but the fish en papillote with tomatoes, olives, and orange zest from Gourmet Yesterday particularly springs to mind. In that dish the flavors impregnated the fish so that each bite revealed a delightful synergy of flavor. This dish is a pretty one, however that only raised my expectations, which were somewhat dashed.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: L.Nightshade

                        I love the idea of fig in the tapenade. My mouth is doing all sorts of watering things just thinking about it. Maybe I can get to the fig tree before the squirrels and birds do this year and make at least the tapenade part of this. Thanks for the report.

                      2. Halibut Steaks Grenoble-Style, p. 208

                        (I could not find this recipe on-line at the Essential Pepin blog, but I did encounter it on another person's recipe-blog. This cook substituted cod for halibut; otherwise the recipe given is identical to the one in Pepin's book):


                        We all love fresh halibut, and this was a delightful way to serve it. (Pepin noted that other fish may be easily substituted, including trout, sole, cod or catfish.) The browned-butter/ diced-lemon/caper Grenoble Sauce was a delicious, refined treatment for simple flour-dusted sautéed halibut steaks, providing a balanced and sensuous sauce without overpowering the fish's taste and texture.

                        We all, children and four adults, ate every scrap. We also loved the crunch that the 3/4 in. sautéed bread croutons supplied. This is another of Pepin's recipes that just "tastes French" to me: the flavors and textures are agreeably proportioned with a hint of luxurious excess. Hmmmm...maybe the stick of unsalted butter used in the recipe might have something to do with this impression? (smile


                        Anyway, the prep is not difficult and the recipe goes fast. I browned the 5 TBS of butter for the sauce ahead of time but this takes only a few minutes and could be done at the last minute while the finished dish keeps warm in a very slow oven.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Goblin

                          This is one I have on my list. I worried that it might be labor intensive (not sure why, reading your review) but you've convinced me to go for it.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            Hi LLM--I hope you try it! It really isn't that labor intensive. Pepin's instructions are very detailed and thus look more complex than they really are. (That's something I like about his recipes--no surprises. Things turn out as advertised!)

                            I bet Lulu will like this. I served it to an eight-year-old and newly-turned six-year old, and both asked for seconds.

                        2. Pasta Gratin with Fish and Spinach, p. 226

                          I had leftover baked cod and this recipe caught my eye.

                          First you cook your spinach until "wilted and soft" and put that in the bottom of a gratin dish. Cook 6 oz farfalle and toss with your cooked fish. Spread onto the spinach. Then make a bechamel sauce, pur it over over the pasta and top with grated parmesan. Cook 400 degrees until the top is browned.

                          This is a very old-fashioned, plain, supper item. I remember my mother making probably this very dish. Nothing super special, but I enjoyed it

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mirage

                            Mirage, thank you for bringing this to my attention. It sounds really good--who can argue with a gratin including spinach, pasta, cooked fish that you would like to use up, béchamel sauce, and parmesan? I"m going to try it.

                            It's been interesting to cook out of this compendium of Jacques Pepin's favorite recipes. I'm learning that many if not most of them are not meant to be revolutionary, but rather reminders of good-tasting recipes.

                            I do NOT remember my mother making this, but I wish I did! ;-)

                          2. Seared Shrimp on Mesclun p. 179.

                            I had my doubts about not using mesclun, but instead a small head of young tender escarole.

                            Basically I think that the escarole was the better choice. I have 'done' other greens, including mesclun, in this fashion/technique, so calling on my experience, I consider escarole was probably the better taste using the combination of dried spices called for.

                            I thought this recipe a bit silly - and harking back to my thinking that many of Pepin's recipes are either too French or too 50's for me to enjoy - but this is a new taste-test for me. Not that I have never paired lettuce with peas, etc. :-))

                            1. Red Snapper with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Shallots, p. 222

                              Here's the recipe from a blog on the web. The blogger agrees with me that this is a keeper.


                              It is indeed a quick and easy recipe that rewards the minimal chopping and slicing required with a delicious skillet-dinner, created out of any firm-fleshed fish quickly cooked on a bed of sliced leek, julienned mushrooms, chopped shallots, and diced red pepper. First you simmer all the veggies briefly together in a cup of dry white wine and 2 TBS of olive oil. I did this a bit ahead just for convenience. Then you place your fish fillets atop the veggies in the pan-- M. Pepin uses red snapper: I used cod for my version-- and simmer, covered, until the fish is done. This only takes a few minutes. Then a TBS of butter is stirred in and the fish is ready to be served with the pan-sauce made from the sautéed vegetables, wine, and s & p. There's something so succulent about the leek-shallot-mushroom-butter combination. Hard to beat. Undeniably old-fashioned French, but once you relax into the concept, it does taste good ("just close your eyes and think of bonne maman.")

                              Very tasty and the veggies provide texture (and color, from the chopped red pepper. ) You don't really need much else on the plate besides some good bread--or rice-- to absorb the sauce. I served this with haricots verts, just for a touch of green. It's the kind of unassuming dish where people start eating rather dutifully, and then they begin to fork it up, murmuring "this is really good" and they end up swabbing everything up completely with bread.
                              That's what I did.

                              1. Mussels in Cream Sauce pg 158

                                This one is a puzzler. Not the recipe, which is very straightforward; steam mussels with chopped onion, garlic, thyme, b. pepper, bay, & white wine, remove mussels to a warmed bowl, strain sauce, whisk a beurre manie into the reserved liquid, bring to boil, add cream, pour cream sauce over mussels, add parsley, serve.

                                The results were exactly as JP describes them "rich and flavorful" and yet I kept looking for something more. But what? I have no idea. "Kept looking" is an operative phrase, as we finished every last mussel, and even after that I found myself tasting the sauce trying to think what I would do differently...no answer yet.

                                1. Roast Monkfish in Ratatouille, p. 201.

                                  So the other night I was looking for a way to cook the monkfish that I received in my Cape Cod Fish Share. I went to the trusty Eat Your Books site and saw this recipe in Essential Pepin. It did not disappoint. We all liked this combo, and I am a big fan of monkfish's firm, sweet texture and flavor.

                                  First a basic ratatouille is made. Dice and combine: onions (sweated for 2 min.first), zucchini, eggplant, green pepper (I used red), plus quartered plum tomatoes, some fresh oregano, finely chopped garlic, and s & p. Bring to boil; cover and cook for 15 minutes; uncover and cook for 10 minutes more or so to evaporate most of the liquid.

                                  Meanwhile, cut 9 randomly spaced incisions in the whole monkfish tail and insert garlic "slivers" into the cuts. Sprinkle with s & p and then quickly lightly brown the fish all over in butter in an over-proof pan. Transfer the fish in its pan to a 400 F oven and roast for about 20 minutes or until fish is cooked through, basting with butter once.

                                  When the ratatouille is cooked, sprinkle with some grated lemon and orange zest, and spoon the mixture all around the fish in its pan. Slice the monkfish into 1/2-inch slices, sprinkle with some parsley, and serve!

                                  The dish is attractive and savory with the Mediterranean flavors of ratatouille. I liked the roasting technique for this firm-textured, meaty fish, which can handle up to 20 minutes of oven-roasting. We also liked the flavor produced by larding the fish with garlic. Never tried this before and it was good! I made the ratatouille mixture a little ahead of time and kept it warm. Because I used juicy garden-tomatoes instead of the recommended plum tomatoes, it took longer to reduce the sauce and I overcooked the eggplant and zucchini a bit--they were awfully soft, and I prefer ratatouille with slightly firmer vegetables. But my husband loved it, so it couldn't have been too bad!

                                  Served with lots of good bread, oven-roasted potatoes, and the broccoli in lemon-butter-Tabasco sauce on p. 416. Worth doing again.

                                  1. Sole with Tomatoes, p. 219

                                    So there I was with some fresh gray sole filets and I wanted something that would make the most of them, without being too time-consuming since lunch needed to happen soon.

                                    I do like the French appreciation of filet of sole--remember how it was Sole a la Meuniere that so captivated Julia Child on her first trip to France, and arguably assisted her conversion into the gastronome that she became? Anyway, "The Essential Pepin" had just the recipe I was looking for. Simple but elegant. I can see it as a first course, accompanied with French bread, or a light main course, with rice and/or more bread to sop up what is a delicious sauce.

                                    I can't find this exact recipe on the internet, so I will paraphrase it as it appears in the book. First you make a bed of 2 TBs melted butter, 1/4 c. chopped shallots, and s & p in a skillet, and then place on top 2 pounds of folded-in-thirds sole filets. Top with more s & p, 1 1/2 TBs chopped parsley, and 1/4 cup more chopped shallots. Then oven-poach it all in a hot oven (450 F). in a "broth" made from 1 1/2 cups dry vermouth and 2 large peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes. When the filets are opaque and cooked through (after about 10 minutes) lift them out onto a warm platter or plates and keep warm in a very slow oven (150 F) while you reduce the sauce in the skillet slightly, to about 1 3/4 cups. Whisk in a couple of TBs of a beurre manie made from 2 TBs of butter and 1 TB of flour, cook for 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup of cream, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add 2 TBs of cognac, taste sauce for seasoning, pour sauce over fish and sprinkle with a bit more chopped parsley.

                                    Delicious and very French, with its unctuous tastes of cream, butter, shallots, and cognac. The tomatoes add a little acidity. I will admit that I did not have the requisite two large ripe tomatoes to hand so I used 3-4 TBs of a good tomato paste mixed into the vermouth. Still tasted good and turned the sauce a light pink. I also thought that the final sauce benefited by a few drops of lemon squeezed over just before serving time. This recipe served six easily.
                                    Note: the recipe as given in the book did NOT specify any flour for the beurre manie, so I just improvised.