Who flipped the switch? After weeks of height-of-summer salads and cookies suddenly here we are, plunged into nights when you need a jacket. I grilled a dozen ears of corn last Thursday, alone at home, nursing a scotch on our deck in the dark, except when I raised the lid of our grill …
Finding gravlax in the south of France is a bit disconcerting, like strolling through an open air market and seeing a vendor in full Viking regalia hawking cured fish among his competitors’ stands of sausage, nougat, and sour cherries. But there it was, gravlax, an appetizer goody that arrived at our table one night to prime the pump before the serious business of the main course–eating duck–began. Thin slices of cured salmon with a beautiful fringe tinted the color of roses. Rich, buttery salmon, a hint of beet, of dill and gorgeous color. None of us could remember the last time we had gravlax, but it had been awhile. Wouldn’t it be great for picnic? Gravlax with a Beet Cure packed among the dark bread, cheese and fruit tarts? Especially with a few cucumbers and some fermented European butter spread on the dark bread before layering on the samon? Of course it would.
A phrase you will never see: Big bold summer squash flavor! Nope. Which is why I’ll take my warm weather squash raw, as in this Summer Squash Salad with Purple Basil Vinaigrette. Very thinly sliced, please, so I can appreciate the mild flavor and crunchy texture, ideally accented by a summery dressing, like the basil vinaigrette that tops this preparation. Throw in a few slices of good parmiggiano and I’m in heaven. And nobody even turned on the oven.
I had my first experience with balsamic vinegar, the bona fide aged article from Modena in Emilia Romagna, while working in a gourmet grocery store in rural Rhode Island in 1981. I remember the occasion because it involved tasting a small drizzle atop strawberries and I thought it was a prank. The taste was transformative. Imagine sweet-tart strained through a bottle of Chateau Margaux. The combination has remained with me ever since. You can catch an echo of that experience in this week’s Seared Salmon with Strawberries, Rose Water and Balsamic Vinegar.
If I ever leave New England, it will be the taste of a freshly seared Atlantic sea scallop that brings me back. Big, meaty, packed with marine flavor. When people talk about regional American cuisine and they trot out Texas or North Carolina barbecue or Virginia hams or Alaskan salmon, I always ask if they’ve ever tasted a genuine New England sea scallop. Most haven’t. This week: Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil. The sea scallops are large, they take a thin edge of delicious sear while remaining moist and rare in the center, and they hold a delicious court with butter, peas and chervil.
Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad. If you make nothing else from us this year, make this. It’s crazy delicious, one of my contenders for the tastiest thing Jody’s cooked in the past year, and it’s easy. Contrary to what you may think, the recipe doesn’t involve filleting your own mackerel. Unless you want to. If so, have it. That’s what we did, but only because the whole fish were so gorgeous I couldn’t bear not photographing them, so I spared our fishmonger the hassle of filleting them for us. You’ll also notice that there are three fish and only four fillets, when you’d expect six. That’s because we roasted the third mackerel whole. If Spanish mackerel’s around, we can’t get enough of it. Make this dish.
As I write this (Thursday) the Big Bad Wolf howls about our house, a slavering gale sniffing out chinks, probing for weaknesses. The temperature is expected to plunge to 5 or 6 above zero by morning, with Boston adrift in over a foot of snow before the blizzard subsides Friday evening. In our current larder we have bread, sweet potatoes and bitter greens that Jody made tonight, chewy papardelle noodles with smoked goose and tomato sauce–the last hurrah of our Christmas birds–and a few precious survivors of this week’s post, Salted Butterscotch Custards. We couldn’t be snugger.
Chicken Under A Brick is a spatchcocked or butterflied bird (they mean the same thing) cooked under a weight so it remains flat and cooks evenly. Part of the pleasure of spatchcocking is just saying it. “Darling, we’re spatchcocking poussin tonight.” Doesn’t that sound like heaps more fun than, “Sweetie, it’s butterflied chicken night,”? I am not alone. Spatchcock is one of those words that sets the hearts of etymologists aflutter, and propositions abound concerning its origins. This much is certain: the English use spatchcock to indicate a chicken under six weeks old, the equivalent of a French poussin. As a verb, on both sides of the Atlantic, it means to remove the backbone and flatten the chicken, making it easier to grill or roast. Its earliest appearance in print is in an 18th-century Irish cookbook, where it’s a recommended method of grilling poultry. But asking how the word came to be–who are its parents, aunts and uncles, distant relations–is to dive into a tangle of linguistic geneology. One theory holds that spatchcock is a shortened form of “dispatch the cock,” with its multiple meanings of killing/prepping, and to happen quickly. Another etymology sees it as a variation of “spitchcock,” an English technique for grilling eels on a spit (nobody can say where “spitchcock” comes from). A particularly evocative Victorian version of the “dispatch the cock” school maintains that the word originated in the long sea voyages from England to India (posh passengers), when coops of chickens would be kept on board. To relieve the tedium of the sea passages at sea and the monotony of a shipboard diet chickens would periodically be brought on deck and, to the amusement and anticipation of salivating passengers, partially deboned, flattened and quickly grilled.
Whatever its origins, spatchcocking chicken is simple and useful, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to cook. All it requires is a pair of heavy-duty kitchen scissors or poultry sheers. The result is a juicy chicken with the crispiest skin you’ve ever tasted.
Curried Cod in Parchment was one of our earliest blog posts. After fantasizing about visiting Patmos, we thought it might be time to revisit the technique – with Shrimp in a Pouch with Lemon Mayonnaise.
This isn’t a fancy-pants recipe – it’s a remedy for the usual put-something-in-a-pan-then-put-something-else-in-a-pan-now-put-something-else-in-a-pan rut. You can finish everything before the first half-hour of All Things Considered ends, and that includes whipping up a batch of homemade mayonnaise (the house record for non-professionals is about 2 minutes). With luck the radio will be playing a story about Congressional budget negotiations while you devein the shrimp. You can sublimate your feelings, whichever side of the fence you’re on, into the pointed end of a sharp knife. Pause to pour yourself a glass of albariño. You deserve it – you’re almost done making dinner.
So what’s up this week? Braised Artichokes with Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Mint. Spring has arrived, and with it truckloads of fat green globe artichokes. No groaning (Oh, god, not artichokes, they’re such a pain…). No, they’re not, and if we learned anything at all from recent events it’s that the small gestures we take for granted are more precious than ever. You only know what you’ve got when it’s gone, so start snapping those leaves off.