Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Recipe: Quick Tuna Salad Over Mixed Greens

Tuna salad over summer greens
This recipe has absolutely nothing to do with cast iron cookware. But it's tasty and quick, and I just had to share.

Some version of this recipe serves as dinner at least one night a week during summer when we don't want to heat up the house by cooking. This time of year the garden is also bursting with greens, cherry tomatoes, and other goodies.

You can adjust quantities depending on how hungry you are.

This recipe serves 2, and takes about 5 minutes to make.

Ingredients
For the tuna salad

  • 10-12 oz. canned tuna, drained
  • 1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • a small wedge of onion, finely chopped (roughly 1 tablespoon of chopped onion)
  • cracked black pepper
  • salt

For the green salad

  • a pile of mixed greens or mesclun
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • cracked black pepper
Procedure
Drain your tuna, and then add the mayonnaise, dijon mustard, chopped celery and onion. Mix things around to combine. Salt and pepper the tuna to taste. It should burst with flavor. You can also add finely chopped pickles and/or dill if it suits your fancy. 

Wash your mixed greens and spin them dry. Drizzle the greens with perhaps a tablespoon of olive oil, and then squeeze in the juice from your half-lemon. Again, salt and pepper the greens to taste as you toss them around. The dressed salad should taste good on its own. 

Arrange your mixed greens on plates, and add half of the tuna salad mixture in the enter of the pile of mixed greens. I happened to have some fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, so I tossed those on as well. 

Serve immediately. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Recipe: Charcoal Grilled Salmon

Grilled sockeye salmon with loose chives tossed on top

Grilled salmon is a real treat when done right. The key, as with just about any fish, is not to over-cook it.

This recipe comes from my days cooking at an adventure lodge in Alaska. Just about every time we served this grilled salmon rendition, a handful of guests would exclaim that it was the best salmon they had ever had in their life... and demand the recipe. We were happy to oblige, because we knew that an earnest request for a recipe is the finest praise a cook can receive.

Now, I bring this recipe to you.

As for the fish... I'm a sucker for wild-caught sockeye or silver salmon. Of course, this recipe works great with whatever salmon variety you've got on hand. NOTE: If you have yet to make your salmon purchase, you can review my article (rant) about the different types of salmon.

You'll want to marinate the salmon for 6-8 hours, so plan accordingly. This recipe serves 8.

I use a charcoal-fired Weber kettle to do my grilling, but you can do just fine with a gas grill. You can also use skinless salmon filets or even steaks... just be sure to closely follow my guidance on when to pull the fish off the grill—as it applies to steaks and skinless filets as well.

Ingredients

  • 8 skin-on salmon filets
  • 2 cups soy sauce or tamari (for a gluten-free experience)
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated ginger
  • 7 large cloves pressed garlic
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil

Procedure
In a large glass bowl, make the marinade by combining the soy sauce (or tamari), water, brown sugar, black pepper, grated ginger, and pressed garlic. Make sure all ingredients are well-mixed. There should be no brown sugar sitting on the bottom of your mixing bowl.

Salmon marinating in a Ziploc
I typically marinate the filets in a Ziploc bag. If you're using a bowl, cover the top with plastic wrap so the parts that stick out of the liquid don't dry out.

Marinate your salmon filets for 6-8 hours. Ideally, give things a stir or shake every 2 hours to ensure even coverage, and to eliminate un-marinated spots that occur where two pieces of fish are pressed tightly together.

Be sure not to marinate for longer than 8 hours, otherwise the salmon gets too salty. If you need to marinate overnight (up to 24 hours), double the water in the marinade.

When you're about 45 minutes from serving time, light your charcoal grill with a full chimney of hardwood lump charcoal. When the coals are glowing at the top, dump them out in an even spread, and then place your grill surface over the coals to heat. Always let your grill heat for 5 minutes and then clean it with a grill brush before adding the food on top.

When grilling tender and/or lean meats (like salmon), be sure to oil your grill surface before adding the food. Otherwise, the meat will stick and make a mess of things.

Oil the hot grill surface with canola or some other relatively high-heat oil. I typically pour a quarter cup of oil into a small glass bowl, and then immerse two folded paper towels and pick them out with grill tongs to oil the grill with them. You can also use spray-on oil... just be sure not to blow yourself up.

Grilled salmon started skin-side up
With the grill well-oiled and hot, toss on your salmon filets skin side up (i.e. red flesh side down). You'll probably want to cover the grill to keep the heat from getting too intense. Grill the salmon for 3-4 minutes, or until you've got some nice grill marks.

Then, flip the salmon filets over so they are skin side down, and finish them off. You'll likely want to cover the grill for this portion as well.

It will probably take another 7-8 minutes to finish the filets, but it depends entirely on the thickness of the filets, the heat of your grill, and the alignment of the planets.

Therefore, you should be in the habit of gently peering inside your salmon filets to check doneness. Do this by gently separating the flakes of flesh—working with the grain of the meat. Salmon filets can go from "just right" to "dry and tough" in less than a minute.

If you will serve your salmon filets immediately onto the plates of your guests (with all other side dishes plated and ready), pull your salmon when there's just a hint of deep red (not fully-cooked) color left in the thickest part of the filet.

If the filets will sit around for 5 minutes after grilling, pull them when there's a good bit of deep red left—maybe half an inch of thickness. Because the filets are being cooked at such a high temperature, they will continue cooking until eaten.

If the filets will sit around for longer than 5 minutes after grilling... save your salmon for another time and cook hot dogs instead.

Just prior to serving, brush the filets gently with sesame oil. This gives them a nice sheen, and also helps keep the filets from losing moisture. It also adds a nice flavor complement to the soy-ginger marinade.

Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Omelet

A cast iron skillet omelet
For many, the idea of cooking an omelet in a cast iron skillet is overwhelming.

That's why Teflon was invented, right? (wrong).

Sidebar: Teflon was actually invented to help lubricate the insides of nuclear weapons. But the cold war dragged on for 43 frickin' years without the thrill of all-out nuclear war... and those nuclear warheads just didn't get used up at the revenue-producing rate the marketing team had predicted. No wonder DuPont diversified into cookware. Unfortunately, Teflon emits PFOA at stovetop cooking temperatures. PFOA is a known carcinogen. When building components for nuclear weapons, emitting cancer-causing chemicals at stovetop temperatures is not particularly problematic. When building cookware, however, it is problematic. I encourage you to check out my Ignite Boulder presentation for more info on this topic.

I believe it is imperative that you learn to cook omelets on cast iron cookware. Your family is counting on you! Fortunately, it's really easy.

For starters, just about any old (or new) cast iron skillet will work. If your skillet has some rudimentary seasoning and a good coating of oil, things will turn out great. Of course, the more well-seasoned your cast iron is, the easier a time you'll have of it.

A small bunch of chard
I typically use two cast iron skillets for omelets—one for sauteing the filling, one for the omelet itself. You could do it all in a single skillet by sauteing the filling first, and then setting it aside in a covered bowl until ready. If you use the one-skillet method you'll probably want to wipe out or rinse your skillet before beginning to cook the eggs to avoid unsightly vegetable residue on the outside of your finished omelet.

Speaking of the outside of your omelet... Escoffier himself relished a well-browned exterior. So don't be afraid to let those eggs set and set well.

For this recipe, I had on hand chard, onions, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. But you can put just about anything into an omelet as long as you taste the filling and it tastes good.

This recipe serves 2-4, depending on side dishes and appetites.

Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced
  • 1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced
  • Small bunch of chard, chopped
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound (4 oz.) grated cheese (cheddar, jack, what have-you)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Canola oil
Procedure
Any time you cook with cast iron, your skillets should start out shiny with a coat of fresh oil. If they weren't put away shiny, you should wipe them with oil until they are.

Begin by heating a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat. This skillet will be used for the filling. Slice your onions, slice your mushrooms, and roughly chop your chard. When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon or so of oil, and toss in the onion to begin sauteing. Saute your onions for 2-3 minutes, and then add the mushrooms and chard. Continue sauteing until the onions are caramelized and the mushrooms are soft and tasty (pull them out and taste them). Perhaps another 5-7 minutes.

While your filling is finishing up, heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat. This skillet will be used for the omelet. As the skillet heats up, crack four eggs into a mixing bowl, add a pinch or two of salt, and beat the eggs well with a fork.

Turn on your broiler.

Omelet fillings ready to go
Back in the "fillings" skillet, clear everything out from the center of the skillet and add your halved cherry tomatoes face-down.

After 2-3 minutes—when they've developed a nice brown crust, add your minced garlic, and stir everything together after about 30 seconds.

Remove the skillet from heat and set aside. Taste your filling, and season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Meanwhile, your "omelet" skillet should be nice and hot. Toss in your butter, stir it around for an even coating, and then pour in your eggs.

Massage the eggs gently as they cook: pop bubbles, smooth out rough spots, and tuck the ragged edges back in.

The goal is not to scramble them... just to move things around and to create bit more structural integrity for the omelet.

An omelet cooking in a cast iron skillet
Once the bottom of the omelet begins to firm up, stop stirring, and add your grated cheese on top. Place the whole affair under the broiler for 20-30 seconds.

The idea is to melt the cheese and give the top layer of eggs a chance to cook a bit more.

BE CAREFUL! It's really easy to burn the whole thing at this point. Do not walk away once you've placed the omelet under the broiler.

As the cheese melts and the eggs begin firming up (but before they cook through), pull the skillet and turn off the broiler. Again, this will take 20-30 seconds.

Omelet filling ready to be covered up
Add your filling to half of the omelet. Then, using a spatula, gently turn the empty side over to cover the filling.

Remove the omelet from the skillet and serve immediately. It's easier to get it out of the skillet if you cut it into sections for serving first... that way you don't have to get the whole thing out in one piece.

If you do wish to get the whole thing out in once piece... it can be done with two wide spatulas and a little bit of skill.

Enjoy!