Three or four summers ago I was standing in water up to my knees on a sandbar known as Horseshoe Shoal in the middle of Barnstable Harbor, that long shark-shaped body of water that swims between the shores of Sandy Neck to the north and the town of Barnstable to the south on Cape Cod. As I watched, a flock of seabirds raced down the channel that passes between the sandbar and Sandy Neck. The birds swooped and cried, strafing a line across the water with their beaks as precise as a squadron of P-51 Mustangs. Then I saw it, a deep slate discoloration below the channel surface, an undulating gray movement that fragmented into hundreds of individual fish as it flashed by me. I wasn’t the only one to take notice. Small boats stopped in the channel, people rising to stand, hands shading eyes. “Blues!” a man cried, waving and pointing. It was August and the bluefish were running. For anglers and eaters on Cape Cod, only striped bass equal the pleasures of bluefish. Stripers taste more delicate, but bluefish fight harder. This week’s dish: Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt.
Making Summer Berries with Sabayon is about as easy as dessert gets. The only thing easier would be to eat the berries with nothing, or just whipped cream. But then you wouldn’t get the texture of sabayon, one of the cooking world’s great miracles–cooked eggs that have been prevented from forming curds. Sabayon is foamy, yet substantive. It can stand on its own as a dessert and offers a great medium for sweet or fortified wine, which is why it’s often made with Marsala. Plus, if you’re feeling Italian, rather than French, you can say you just whipped up a batch of zabaglione (s/zaa-bal-YOH-nee), which to my ear sounds like something Willy Wonka eats for breakfast on holidays.
I had to bite my tongue while Jody prepared this week’s Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade. The photographer in me was dying to speak up: Don’t you want to sneak a little preserved lemon into that? Some extra visual pop? Truth be told, my wife has always been a member of the “flavor first ” camp, with visual appeal a distant second. And we use preserved lemons in everything, so this week we’re giving tomatoes a turn, and tapenade. Is anything more summery than the crazy quilt of tomatoes just ripening in New England, along with an herby tapenade, basil and olive oil? If you’ve never sat down at a table with tapenade because you’re afraid it might once have dated an anchovy, then fear not. As Jody explains in her notes, this tuna tapenade’s for you.
Menus from proximate restaurants in rural France can seem eerily similar, as though all aligned along the same invisible lines of culinary force emanating from the specialties of the region. This restaurant has fois gras; that restaurant has fois gras. This restaurant offers grilled duck breast; that restaurant offers grilled duck breast. Whether you find this state of affairs delightful or vexing depends on your perspective. If I were living in the same village for several months then menu similarity might start to get tedious, but in the Sud-Ouest, that lower left corner of France heading toward Spain, I had no problem with encountering a familiar selection of fois gras, duck and rabbit, accompanied by eggplant and tomatoes, not to mention the incredible local dessert pastry, Pastis de Quercy, the subject of a future post. I enjoy fois gras, but I love duck. For me, duck has more there there than any other animal protein. I’d give up beef in two quacks if I had to choose between it and duck. Legs, breast, liver – no matter. It’s all great to me. You can make up your own mind with our Grilled Duck with Peaches entrée this week. You can also eliminate the potentially irksome challenge of cooking duck inside, dealing with the fat. We cook it outside. On the 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.
Fat. Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we? Fat’s probably the best place to begin a discussion of Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory. Au debut, as the French say, in the beginning, rillettes meant one thing – pork. Or rather, pork and fat. Rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast. Rillettes* are now found all over France, and while pork is still popular, in the Southwest, the Midi-Pyrenees, extending down to the Spanish border, the technique is more often seen with duck or rabbit. Today rillettes of salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms are not uncommon on pricey menus. It’s hard to argue with that–what doesn’t taste good when cooked slowly in fat and salt?
Move along, move along. Nothing to see here, except vacation pics. (Oh noooooooooo, vacation pictures?!) This is a self-serve post–you can jump ship now, or you can take a gander at our trip. I’ve put together three different galleries, to help with a bit of context. St. Cirq Lapopie and the Sud-Ouest. Meursalt and the Rando -Gourmande. And last of all, Paris. Next week we return with something to eat.
As you read this, we’re feverishly running around dropping off the animals, picking up last-minute compact flash cards, camera batteries and a new swimsuit. This afternoon we fly off on vacation, to spend a couple of weeks connecting with old friends, exploring prehistoric cave painting, cycling, drinking, eating and playing Bananagrams on the terrace. I’m still uncertain about whether we’re going to go dark–EVERYBODY needs some time off the grid–or if I’ll try figuring out some sort of wifi connection for the occasional splash of photos. In the meantime we’re going out with something that anyone can use to make themselves look like a back yard fire god, Grilled Skit Steak with Spicy Green Romesco. You need a food processor and a bit of patience. Look at the photos: No complicated technique. Believe me, you’ll be killer.
Okay, time to pull out the summer standbys and give everything a creative thwaking with the culinary carpet beater. Potato Salad with Wilted Romaine and Dijon Vinaigrette is a way of shaking things up–just enough to keep things interesting. I ought to know. I’ve been eating this all week.