Saturday, March 21, 2015

RICE "ON THE SIDE"

Last week, after filleting a whole corvina, I saved the head, bones and trimmings to make fish stock. Usually I stash stock in the freezer, ready for making one of my favorite Spanish fish soups. This time I decided to use that pot of concentrated flavor for a Spanish rice dish that’s not paella.


Flavorful rice and not much else.

Arroz abanda (in Alicante lingo, it’s arròs a banda) means rice “on the side.” It’s sort of like paella but without all the baroque trimmings. Originally it was a simple fisherman’s dish cooked on board a trawler. Some of the day’s catch was boiled in a pot, then skimmed out. Rice was added to cook in the tasty broth. The rice was served first, followed by the boiled fish.

The dish has since achieved near-cult status, especially in the provincial city of Alicante, where the rice is usually prepared in a paella pan instead of a fisherman’s kettle. It can be served in solitary splendor as a starter or as a side dish with fish cooked simply. A pungent alioli (garlic sauce) is the only accompaniment.

The success of arroz abanda depends on starting with a flavor-packed fish stock. You’ll find a basic recipe here. Use small, whole fish; trimmings from larger fish; crustacean shells; clam or mussel juices.

About Spanish rice. Spanish rice, the kind used for paella, is a round-grained, medium-short variety. Spanish rice has a white perla (pearl), where the starch is concentrated. Its great virtue is as a flavor conductor, soaking up the savory juices with which the rice cooks—olive oil sofrito, chicken, rabbit or seafood,  saffron. Spanish (often called “Valencian”) rice is similar to Italian varieties used for risotto. But the cooking method is totally different. Risotto is stirred to develop the creamy starch. Paella rice, cooked “dry,” is never stirred, as stirring would break up the starch kernel.

Bomba is one of several varieties of rice grown in Spain (it may be from the region called Calasparra). Bomba rice is especially esteemed for caldoso (soupy) and meloso, juicy, rice dishes because the kernel of starch doesn’t burst open and make the rice sticky. Bomba rice is absolutely not necessary for paella.

But, for this recipe, if possible use the bomba variety of rice because it will absorb more of that flavorful fish stock (use triple the volume of liquid to rice). If using varieties other than bomba, decrease the quantity of stock, using approximately double the volume of liquid to rice.

Ñoras are small dried peppers.
The traditional recipe calls for the pulp of a ñora, a bittersweet dried red pepper, the same pepper used to make pimentón (paprika). If not available, substitute a spoonful of sweet pimentón, stirred with a little water to make a paste. Saffron is optional; it adds that vibrant golden color.

Fry shrimp shells for flavor.
In addition to the fish stock, this recipe also calls for flavoring the cooking oil with shrimp shells and heads. If you haven’t got heads and shells, just omit this step. And, instead of a sofrito of chopped vegetables, it calls for a picada of tomatoes, ñora, garlic and parsley crushed in a mortar or blender.






Arroz Abanda
Rice on the Side

A few shrimp and pieces of squid for a tasty rice dish.

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.

2 ñoras (or 2 teaspoons pimentón)
¼ cup boiling water
12 ounces small unpeeled shrimp (or 6 ounces peeled)
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces squid, cut in rings
Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
2 cups medium-short rice, preferably bomba variety
5 ½-6 cups fish stock, heated
Alioli (garlic mayonnaise) to serve


Remove stem and seeds from the ñoras. Place one of them in a small bowl and add boiling water. Allow to soak 30 minutes.

Peel the shrimp, reserving both the bodies and the heads and shells.

Ingredients for a picada to flavor the rice.
Make the picada. Open the soaked ñora and, with the side of a spoon, scoop the pulp from the skin. Discard the skin and add the pulp to a mortar or blender. (Add the soaking liquid to the stock pot.) Add the tomatoes, garlic, parsley and ½ teaspoon salt to the pulp of the ñora. Crush or blend to make a smooth paste.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a paella pan, cazuela or skillet. Add the reserved shrimp heads and shells. Sautée until shells turn pink. Skim out the heads and shells and discard them, reserving the oil.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the remaining ñora and fry it on all sides. Remove the ñora and reserve. Add the tomato-garlic paste to the pan and sautée, stirring. Add the squid rings and the saffron threads.

Stir in the rice and let it sautée a few minutes. Add the hot stock. Cook the rice on a high heat for 8 minutes. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Stir in the reserved shrimp. Return the fried ñora to the pan, placing it in the center of the rice. Lower the heat and cook until rice is cooked, 15-18 minutes longer. Let the rice set 5 minutes before serving. Serve accompanied by alioli.

Serve rice with alioli--garlic mayonnaise.
Alioli
Garlic Mayonnaise

This is not a true alioli, which is an emulsion of crushed garlic and olive oil. But this simplified version is quick and delicious.

½ cup bottled mayonnaise
1-2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt, if needed


Place the mayonnaise, garlic, oil and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste and add salt if necessary. Keeps, refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

GONE FISHING!

I’m trawling local seafood markets, searching out fish that I don’t ordinarily buy, taking advantage of the seasonal abundance (spring + Lent). A few weeks ago I landed a colorful wrasse (see that post here). This week I’ve hooked a silvery-grey corvina.

Corvina, also known as a "croaker," is a fine fish.

Belonging to the family Sciaenidae, the corvina in English is “croaker” or “meagre”. Also known as drums, for the noise they make under the water, these fish are lean, white, flaky and of excellent flavor. Don't you think corvina is a nicer name than meagre or croaker?

This fish is not abundant in the wild anymore, but my specimen, a whole one weighing more than two pounds (gutted and scaled), is of cría, raised in fish farms in Spain.

My favorite way to cook a whole fish is baked with potatoes and other vegetables. But since I’ve given you that recipe already (recipe + more about aquaculture in Spain ), I pulled up a recipe for a tumbet, a Mallorcan casserole with fish, potatoes and eggplant.

Tumbet is a casserole with fish, potatoes and eggplant.
Once I decided what I was going to cook, I realized I would have to fillet the fish myself. Oh well, good to bone up on my filleting skills. With a good knife and patience, it’s really easy.


To fillet a fish: Starting from the head end, cut down along the backbone, keeping the knife as close to the spine as possible. Separate the top fillet at the tail. Turn the fish over and remove the second fillet in the same manner, cutting the flesh off the spine. Cut away side fins and attached bones. Use your fingers to locate any other bones.



To remove the skin: Make an incision at the tail end. Grasp the skin firmly with one hand and with the knife angled against the skin, pull the skin to release the flesh.

Save head and bones for stock.
Other fish that can be used in place of corvina are sea bass, wrasse, or, a Mallorcan favorite, llampuga, which is dolphin fish, better known as mahi mahi (and not related to the marine mammal called dolphin). This casserole can be made without the fish for a vegetarian meal.

Typically in Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands, this casserole would be prepared in the morning and served at room temperature as a light supper dish.


Tumbet de Pescado a la Mallorquina
Fish and Vegetable Casserole, Mallorcan Style

Baking melds the flavors in this casserole.

Serves 4 as a main course.

12-16 ounces fish fillets
Salt and pepper
3 medium eggplant (about 1 ¾ pounds)
½ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes (1 2/3 cups)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
4 medium potatoes (1 ¾ pounds)
1 ½ cups chopped green pepper
Flour for dredging
¼ cup liquid (fish stock, white wine or water)


Cut the fish into 3-inch pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

Slice the eggplant crosswise ¼ inch thick. Put the slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to drain for 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet. Add the onion and garlic and sauté 5 minutes without letting them brown. Add the tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, cinnamon, bay leaf and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer 15 minutes until sauce is thickened. Pass through a sieve or puree in a blender.

Peel the potatoes and slice them ¼ inch thick. Heat ¼ cup of oil in a large skillet. Fry the potatoes slowly, turning occasionally, until they are fork-tender, about 15 minutes. They do not need to brown. Remove them, reserving the oil.

Fry the green pepper in the oil until softened. Remove.

Place flour in a dish and dredge  the pieces of fish in it, patting off excess. Add enough additional oil to the skillet so the bottom of the pan is covered. Fry the fish until lightly golden on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove.

Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Dredge the slices lightly with flour and pat off excess. Add remaining oil to the skillet. Fry the eggplant in batches until it is tender. Remove.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Layer vegetables and fish.
Lightly oil a cazuela, gratin dish or oven-proof casserole. Spread half the  potatoes on the bottom of the cazuela. Sprinkle with salt. Scatter half of the chopped pepper on top of the potatoes. Layer half of the eggplant.

Place the pieces of fish on top of the eggplant. Add another layer of potatoes and sprinkle them with salt. Continue with remaining peppers and eggplant. Pour over the liquid. Spread the tomato sauce over the top. Cover with foil.

Bake until the casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot or room temperature.

Flaky fish, tender vegetables.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

PURPLE, CONTINUED

Inspired by finding purple potatoes, last week I collected a basketful of purple veggies and fruit, just for the pleasure of putting them all together. I gave you recipes for purple potatoes and for beets then (scroll down to that blog for the recipes). Now I’ve got the eggplant, red onions, red cabbage and purple plums to use up!

Like the potatoes and beets, these vegetables are also good sources of the antioxidant anthocyanin which helps boost the immune system and regulate blood pressure. 

Eggplant pudding bakes in a shell of eggplant skins.

Eggplant Timbale 
Cuajado de Berenjenas 
 

Eggplant, unlike the other purple vegetables, is only purple on the outside. The interior flesh is a creamy color. So, I chose a recipe that uses the skins to create a case for a creamy, cheesy pudding, called a cuajado.  Made with vegetables, eggs, and cheese, the cuajados are precursors of the Spanish tortilla made of eggs and potatoes. Cuajados come from Spain’s medieval Sephardic Jewish culture, where an all-dairy meal (no meat) was served on some holidays. In fact, modern-day Sephardim call these meatless meals by the Spanish word, desayuno, or break-fast—meaning a substantial brunch or lunch.

This eggplant timbale makes a delightful brunch dish or an elegant starter. It looks quite special, with its shiny, purple-black skin. I made it with whole-wheat bread crumbs and served it, with a tangy sauce, as a vegetarian main.

I used the microwave to cook the eggplant. They can also be baked, roasted under the broiler or over charcoal. Do not let the skins char.

Serves 6 to 8 as a starter; 4 as a main course.

3-4 medium eggplant (2 to 2 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoon grated onion
3 eggs
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 cups grated cheese (such as semi-cured Manchego)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar
Olive oil to grease the pan


Cut off stems from the eggplant. Pierce them through lengthwise with a skewer. Place on a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Remove and turn the eggplant. Microwave on high 4 minutes more, or until they are soft. (It may be necessary to microwave them in two or three turns.)

Remove and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Cut the eggplant open lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, reserving the skins in one piece. Purée the flesh in a blender or food processor with the onion and eggs.

Place the puréed eggplant in a bowl and fold in the breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, pepper and vinegar.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Line casserole with the skins.
Oil the bottom and sides of a 2-quart ovenproof casserole. Place the eggplant skins, shiny side down, on the bottom of the casserole, overlapping them slightly and allowing them to extend partway up the sides. Spoon the eggplant and cheese mixture into the casserole, smoothing the top. Cover with foil. Place in a larger pan and add boiling water to half its depth. Carefully place in preheated oven.

Bake the timbale until set and a skewer comes out clean when tested, about 60 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Loosen the sides of the timbale. Place a serving plate on top and carefully invert the timbale onto the plate.

Serve the timbale warm or cold.

Red Cabbage Slaw
Ensalada de Col Lombarda

Red cabbage slaw has apples and toasted cumin.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

½ pound red cabbage (approx. ¼ of a whole cabbage)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 apples, peeled and cored
2 carrots, peeled
1 shallot, minced
½ teaspoon cumin seed
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Shred the cabbage.
Trim away the core of the cabbage and discard any tough outer leaves. Shred the cabbage with a knife and place in a bowl. Add the salt and combine. Allow the cabbage to set 15 minutes.

Place the lemon juice in a food processor bowl. Use the coarse grater attachment to grate the apples and carrots. Add them to the cabbage with the minced shallot.

Toast the cumin in a small skillet just until fragrant. Place it in a small bowl. Whisk in the yogurt, vinegar and oil. Combine the dressing with the slaw. Allow the slaw to marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour or up to 24 hours.

If desired, serve garnished with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Purple plums for spicy chutney.
Purple Plum Chutney

5-6 purple plums
2 slices lemon, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon raisins
Chile, to taste, minced
¼ cup vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mustard seed
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste


Remove pits from the plums and chop them into a saucepan. Add the chopped lemon, shallot, ginger, raisins, chile, vinegar, salt, mustard seed, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer until plums are soft, about 15 minutes. The chutney will thicken as it cools.

Place in a clean jar and store refrigerated.

Serve this easy relish with roast turkey, pork or lamb.
Red onions are more pungent than yellow ones.
The Purple People Eater’s special! Purple-red onions are the garnish for  turkey salad with red potatoes, beets, purple slaw and red-leafed lettuce.