Monthly Archives: July 2012

Grilled Whole Yellow Snapper with Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Well that title certainly sounds fancy and complicated doesn’t it, but it’s not really.  It is also less of a planned meal and more of a “we have this in the refrigerator and I have a craving for that” meal.

To start with, I have  been cooking whole fish on the grill for a couple of years now.  I got the bug during a trip to South Beach in Miami where I had a whole grilled Yellow Snapper and it was SO GOOD, that I had to try it at home.  It was intimidating the first time, but really was not that difficult.  So I thought it would be a good thing to post here and perhaps give someone else the confidence to try it.

Now in addition to the cooking challenge of getting the fish done without burning it, you have the YECH factor.  There are a lot of people that have trouble seeing and handling a whole fish.  And that can get worse when it comes off the grill…  But there are ways to get around that too, so here we go with my tips for cooking a whole fish on the grill.

The first step is to acquire the fish.  The advice I always see in cooking magazines and online is that “the fish should look and smell fresh”.  Great, what exactly does that mean?  Well, the eyes should be clear, not cloudy, and it should look firm not “old”.  But the best test is the smell.  Remember it will still smell like fish, but it should not smell like fish that has been sitting in the trash can overnight.  I’m sure you can imagine that smell.  And of course there are lots of variations in between.  I find it best to go with you gut.  If it looks and smells good, go for it.

The second step in acquiring the fish is to have it cleaned.  Most fish shops and fish counters will do this for you.  This involves them removing the fish’s “plumbing”, scales (if not already removed), extra fins, etc..  They will also remove the head for you if you would prefer not to look at fish eyes during your dinner.  Once cleaned, your fish is ready for dinner prep.

In terms of quantity, I usually get 1 fish per person for small to medium-small sized fish (think trout, branzino, etc.).  For larger fish that are medium to large (like rockfish, snapper, etc.), I usually get 1 fish for 2 people.

I use a wire fish basket to cook the fish on the grill.  It lets the fish get some direct heat, but holds it together on the grill.  I start by rinsing the fish off, outside and in.  Then pat it dry.  I read somewhere that cutting a couple of slits in each side of the fish is a good idea, so I do that also.

Next I rub the fish, inside and out with olive oil.  I like to use a lemon olive oil to add some extra flavor to the fish.  I also slice a lemon into thin slices to place on the outside of the fish.  This helps protect the meat and give it a little lemon flavor.

I pull some herbs from the garden, usually some mixture of oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory, tarragon, etc.  Nothing really strongly flavored.  I rinse and dry the herbs, then stuff them inside the fish cavity (where the plumbing used to be).

First I give the fish basket a spray of oil, to keep things from sticking.  Next I place some lemon slices and herbs on the wire fish basket, then place the fish on top of them.  I add lemon slices and herbs onto the fish, then close the basket.  It should look something like this:

Now it is time for cooking.  I preheat the grill and before putting the fish on, adjust the heat.  In the area where the fish will sit, I turn the heat down to low.  The other burners I set to medium.  I find that using indirect heat lets the fish cook all the way through without burning and charring it.

I try to only flip the fish once, twice maximum.  Each time you flip it, you have a chance that a chunk will break off and fall into the grill, so try to limit the flipping.  Telling when the fish is done is a little tricky.  I usually take a small knife or fork and pry open the fish a little to see if it’s cooked through.  When it’s done, it should be flaky and opaque.

Be careful when pulling the fish basket off the grill.  Even though it has a handle, I have some burn marks from touching part of the wire basket.  I find that the fish comes out of the basket easier if you let it sit for a short time, maybe 5 minutes.  It is also easier if you sprayed the basket with oil.

I always try to filet the cooked fish on the plate, cutting the meat off the bones.  But it never works out very well for me, and I end up pulling off chunks and serving those.


Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

This dish is a great appetizer, but we had some Prosciutto and I had a craving for a salty vegetable to go with the sweet mild fish, so a dinner idea was formed.  This is really easy to make too, and can be made on the grill with the fish.

First you clean and trim the Asparagus.  I usually trim off the bottom third of the stalk where it is most tough and woody.  I put the Asparagus into a glass microwave safe dish, cover with plastic wrap and cook for 1 minute, 30 seconds.

If you have more Asparagus or thicker ones, you may need to cook them a little longer.  The goal is to only cook them slightly, leaving them still firm.  Once they are done, you need to let them cool down.  You are also going to need some toothpicks (I usually break them in half).  And you need some Prosciutto cut into thin strips.

Once the Asparagus is cool enough to work with.  Take each stalk and wrap a piece of Prosciutto around it (like a candy cane stripe).  Secure both ends with toothpicks and set it aside.

When you are done, place them carefully on the grill.  You need to watch these closely so that the Prosciutto does not burn.  You also need to rotate them trying to get all 4 sides some grill time.  Once they are browned, pull them off the grill.

These are good by themselves, providing a smoky, salty flavor to the Asparagus.  They are also good with a dipping sauce, such as an Aioli.  And as I mentioned, they make a great party appetizer.

So how did this odd meal turn out?  Well the fish was really good.  Yellow Snapper is a light fish, but it actually has some flavor.  And the lemon, herb combination plus the smoky grilling made for an excellent taste.  The Asparagus was also very good.  Having a little salty flavor with the fish was a good pairing.  I would definitely do it again.

For a wine paring, I picked out the Villa Creek 2010 White.  It is a blend of 65% Grenache Blanc, 30% Roussanne and 5% Picpoul Blanc.

This is typically called a Rhone White, because white wines with some mixture of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne are made in the Rhone Valley in France.  These wines are really good with food.  They have wonderful flavors like peaches and honeysuckle, and usually are not as oaky as a Chardonnay.  The versions from California, particularly the Central Coast area are very good and reasonably priced.  The sweet, fruity flavors of the wine paired really well with the fish and were a nice compliment to the salty Asparagus.

I hope with the pointers in this post you will take a shot at cooking a whole fish at home.  It is very good, and makes for an impressive presentation at the table.  If you do, let me know how it goes and pass on any pointers!







Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I have had Salted Caramel Ice Cream several times, and have always loved it, so I wanted to recreate it at home.  So I went looking for a recipe.  Jeni’s Ice Creams made in Columbus, OH makes a really good one and she has a cookbook that tells you how to make it.  Perfect!  I’ll do that one!  But honestly it sounded too complicated to me.  So I searched the Internet for a recipe.  I found one on the Food Network website, but again, it looked really complicated.  There was one on the Epicurious website that looked complicated too, but less so than all the others.  It was the easiest I could find.

Now normally I am an adventurous cook, and will try anything.  In fact, I regularly make something for the first time when hosting guests.  I usually have no fear when it comes to cooking.  But this Salted Caramel Ice Cream seemed intimidating.  You had to “melt” sugar, brown it, then pour cream into this melted sugar stuff with all the recipes warning “it will splatter”.  I was nervous.

I followed the Epicurious recipe exactly.  Here is the link to the original, though I am going to re-quote it here to give you some tips.  I hope Epicurous doesn’t think I am stealing their recipe.

  • 1 1/4 cups Sugar, divided
  • 2 1/4 cups Heavy Cream, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky Sea Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Whole Milk
  • 3 Large Eggs

Heat 1 cup Sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

This was the step that seemed the most difficult to me.  If you messed this up, the whole dish was ruined.  So I did exactly what they said, almost.  As the sugar began to melt (it actually melts!), I kept stirring.  What happens is that the molten sugar attaches to the fork, then cools and hardens, making clean-up a pain.  So stop stirring when the sugar starts to melt.  Also, this is like making a Roux.  The longer you cook it, the darker (and more burnt tasting) it becomes.  So I stopped when it was a “light” amber, knowing that it would cook a little longer off the heat.

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will splatter) and cook, stirring, until all of the caramel has dissolved.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla.  Cool to room temperature.

They don’t lie, this splattered!  And mixing the caramel and cream seemed like a forced marriage for the first few minutes, but it got easier and soon was a nice brown color.  I used some Cyprus Flake Sea Salt since it was the “flakyest” I had on hand.  I was tempted to put the mixture in the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process but resisted the urge.  That worked, because the other stuff took a little time to make.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

This was straight forward, and a welcome easy step compared to the Caramel preparation.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of the hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly.  Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer (do not let boil).  Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.

The first part was easy, but once I got the mixture back in the saucepan, it didn’t go as planned.  First, I didn’t have a wooden spoon, just a plastic (heat resistant one), and it seemed that the mixture coated the back of the spoon upfront, so that was no help.  After cooking for a short time, my thermometer read 150 degrees, but the mixture was bubbling like it was boiling, and getting thick.  So I pulled the mixture off the heat.  I used a big strainer to pour the mixture through and was surprised at the big chunks of stuff that were left, but what went into the bowl looked even better.  I had to “mush” the mixture through the strainer at the end to get all of the liquid out.

Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours.  Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

I put the custard into the refrigerator and stirred it every hour, and it stayed there for a good 6 hours.  We have a 2 Quart Cuisinart Ice Cream maker, so I used that to churn the Ice Cream.  It took about 25 minutes until the Ice Cream Maker was struggling and the mixture looked “firm”.

I extracted the ice cream and put it into a plastic container and put it into the freezer overnight.

We had some for lunch the next day, and WOW, it was outstanding!  A wonderful toasty caramel flavor, with a slight salty flavor.  But sweet and creamy too.  I put some Marshmallow Cream on mine, but it didn’t really need anything.  It was just so good by itself.

So the ice cream was good, but even better was the lesson that a recipe that looks difficult might not be so hard after all.

OK, no the ice cream was better than the life lesson….




Pacific Spice Vinegar with Tomatoes and Beans

I stumbled across a store in Bethesda, MD called Secolari Artisan Oils & Vinegars a few weeks ago.  They have an incredible assortment of Olive Oils, Vinegars, and Pastas many with unique flavor combinations.

Their website is not functional yet, but here is the link:

I tasted through most everything in the store and found several things I liked, including a vinegar called Pacific Spice.  It is sweet and spicy with a very unique flavor.  The tag in the store says it contains Kiwi and Chili Pepper with Ginger, Citrus and “Secret Spices”.  I used it mixed with some Greek Olive Oil to dress some Arugula and it was very good, but I thought it had potential as an ingredient in a dish.

I had a piece of Rockfish that I was going to grill for dinner and I wanted a side dish to go along with it, but it needed to be something I could use this Pacific Spice Vinegar in.  So I made this Tomato and Bean dish…

  • 2 cans Cannellini Beans drained
  • 1 package small Grape Tomatoes cut into chunks (mine were a mix of yellow and red)
  • 1 medium Vidalia Onion chopped
  • 5 cloves of Garlic chopped fine
  • 12 Basil leaves roughly chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons Pacific Spice Vinegar (could substitute Tarragon Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

In a large, oven-proof pan, I added the Olive Oil and set the heat to medium-high.  When the oil was hot, I added the onions and cooked, stirring frequently until they were translucent.

Next I added the garlic and cooked it, stirring to keep it from burning for about 3 minutes.  I added the Cannellini Beans and mixed them together with the onions and garlic.

I heated this mixture for about 5 minutes to cook off some of the bean liquid.  Next I added the Tomatoes and mixed them gently into the bean mixture.  I let that cook down for about 3 minutes, then added the Basil leaves.

I heated this mixture for another 3 minutes, then added 2 Tablespoons of the Pacific Spice Vinegar.  I pulled the pan off of the burner and put it into a preheated oven set at 400 degrees.  I left the pan in the over for about 6 minutes or until the mixture dried out a little, then removed it from the oven (careful it will be hot).  I poured in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of vinegar and stirred it in.  I let the mixture sit for a good 5 minutes before transferring it to a bowl.

This normal bean and tomato mixture really came to life with the vinegar.  It had a little heat, it had a little sweetness and it was just really good.  We ate every drop of it.  And it was really good with a simple grilled rockfish filet.

Since you may not find Pacific Spice Vinegar unless you live in Maryland, you might try Tarragon Vinegar, it seems like it would be a good substitute.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.



The Great Power Outage Feast

On Friday evening, 6/29, eastern Maryland was hit by a fierce storm, knocking out power and tree limbs in the area, and at my house in particular.  Of course the temperatures were in the mid-90’s, making it an even more pleasant experience.  So with such warm temperatures and no power, things in the freezer began to thaw out.  By the time power was restored on Monday 7/1, we had some meat that had to be eaten before it went bad.

I had purchased a Buffalo Flank Steak (Whole Foods I believe), which was half thawed, so that was on the menu.  I also had a Duck Breast which was mostly thawed, so Buffalo and Duck for dinner, oh and maybe a vegetable too…

Now after being without power for a few days, and spending most of those days clearing limbs, sticks and leaves from the yard in the hot sun, I was a little tired, so my first thought was, “let’s just cook them”.  But I had purchased those 2 items with specific intentions and I hated for them to be wasted.  I also realized it has been a while since I’ve posted something, so I thought a power outage feast post was in order!

Buffalo Flank Steak with Avocado

I had purchased a DryGlaze mix from Urban Accents (my favorite spice blends).  It is called Vermont Grill and features Maple and Sage.  I have used this on Salmon before and it is really delicious, but I wanted to try it on some beef.  I had thought that the Buffalo Flank Steak would be a good option to try it on.

Here is the link to the Urban Accents Vermont Grill DryGlaze:

Using the DryGlaze is really easy.  Coat the meat with Olive Oil, then sprinkle on the DryGlaze mix.  Place it into a plastic bag and let it sit.  By the way these are the directions on the package, so nothing special here.  After about 30 minutes, the mix has formed a “glaze” on the meat as the sugar has melted with the oil.

I pulled the meat out of the bag and placed it on the grill.  Now with all of the sugar in the DryGlaze, you should avoid high direct heat as it will burn.  So I put the burner under the meat on low, set the other burners to medium and closed the lid.

When the meat reached 130 degrees (medium rare), I pulled it off the grill, tented it with foil and let it sit.

Now this Vermont Grill DryGlaze may be sweet with a maple flavor, but it also packs a little heat (from past experience), so I wanted something cooling to eat with the flank steak.  I took an Avocado, peeled it and placed it in a bowl.  I mashed up the Avocado with a fork until it was a paste.  Next I squeezed the juice from half of a Lime into the Avocado and mixed it up.  I also added a little salt and pepper for taste.  This wasn’t a very complex accompaniment, but I was hoping it would tame the heat a little bit.

Duck Breast with Cherry Sauce

At a beer tasting a few months ago, I tried a Belgium ale made with Cherries called Liefmans Cuvee Brut.  It was a little sweet for a drinking beer, but I imagined it would be great to poach a duck breast in.  So I bought a bottle along with a duck breast planning to make it one day.

I prepared the duck breast by making several cuts in the fat side of the meat.  This allows the fat to escape I assume.  I also coated the meat side of the duck breat with some Thyme and some Savory leaves along with a little salt and pepper.

In a frying pan I poured about a quarter inch of the Liefmans ale and started heating it over medium heat.

Once it began to steam, I placed the duck breast in the pan, fat side down.

This time I placed a splatter screen over the pan, after my last duck breast experience when it splattered everywhere.  I cooked the duck breast for about 5 minutes, then turned it over to cook the meat side.  The ale had begun to evaporate, so I refilled the pan to a quarter inch of ale.  After another 5 minutes I flipped the duck breast again and added more ale to the pan.  I did this a couple of more times until a meat thermometer registered 130 degrees (medium rare), then pulled the duck breast out, tented it with foil and let it sit.

The frying pan had a little of the ale left along with some duck fat.  So I added a little more of the cherry ale, then added 3 tablespoons of Cherry Preserves, stirring over medium heat to incorporate it into the sauce.  I brought the sauce mixture to a boil, reducing it slightly.  Next I added 2 tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar to the sauce and mixed it in, again reducing it slightly.  I pulled it off the heat and poured it into a small pitcher.

The Results

The Buffalo Flank Steak was really good.  It was leaner, more tender and more flavorful than any beef flank steak I have ever had.  The Vermont Grill DryGlaze did not really show up however.  I barely tasted any of the Maple flavoring which was disappointing.  The Avocado accompaniment was a nice change of pace with the meat though.  Very refreshing after a hot couple of days.

Wow!  The Duck Breast was fantastic!  Cooking it in the ale kept it nice and moist and gave it a slight cherry flavor which worked really well with the dark duck meat.  The sauce was the real star however.  It was great by itself, it was great on the duck, it was even good on the Flank Steak!  The duck fat and Balsamic added an earthiness and savory flavor to the sweetness of the cherry preserves and cherry ale.  I could pour that sauce on anything.  Definitely a keeper of a recipe.

The Wine

This meal had a lot of flavors going on, so it was going to be a little challenging to pick a wine.  I wanted something fruity and juicy to go with the fats in both meats.  The cherry sauce was going to be the most dominate flavor of the meal, so I needed to be sure the wine would stand up to that too.  So I decided to go with a California Zinfandel which can be very fruity and jammy.  They also sometimes have a “brambly” character which I thought might pair well with the Flank Steak.  I picked a Neal Zinfandel from Napa Valley.  The Neal family makes really good wines that are remarkably affordable for Napa Valley wines.  I find their wines show the characteristics of the grape without being overdone.  Some Zinfandels can be so over-extracted that they are almost like syrup, which was not what I wanted for this meal.

The Neal Zinfandel went really well with the duck and cherry sauce and was also good with the flank steak.  I probably could have poured a Cabernet Sauvignon with the flank steak and it may have paired better, but the Zinfandel worked too.

The Power Outage Feast was a complete success!