Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breaking Down my First Fish :)

I've been craving fish for a week or two now, so yesterday I finally I decided to make it happen. I do live in the beautiful coastal city of Charleston, SC, after all, where there's certainly an abundance of fresh, local seafood readily available at all times. So, I headed to Crosby's Seafood, my favorite little fish purveyor, to see what they had.

I named him Nemo.

 This is what I ended up with! A whole, 2 lb., locally caught red snapper.  Kind of ambitious of me, but I decided that it was high time I attempt to break down a fish myself.  I get it theoretically, but practically I've never done it.

First, I had to get those scales off.  So, I put the fishy in a plastic bag in the sink to try to make as little mess as possible.  I grasped his tail with my left hand, and with the right hand I ran a spoon down his body against the grain of the scales, and they came off pretty easily. I did this on both sides of the fish, up to just below the gills. When I was done, I rinsed him off to make sure no scales were left. 

Next, I cut off the spiny fin on his back, just because I knew I would probably hurt myself if I left it on. Because I am ridiculously clumsy.

Next, I started outlining the fillet.  I found the fish's backbone with my fingertips, and ran my knife all down one side of it, staying as close to the bone as possible.

Then, I cut through from the top to the bottom, making a little flap at the tail.

The next step is to run your knife along the belly.  You want to try to keep the bones under your knife, with the nice meaty fillet on top.


To finish the outline of the fillet, I ran my knife along the head, behind the gills and the little swimmy fin (yeah I have no clue what that's called).  Now there should be a nice outline of the fillet, with just the meat in the middle keeping it attached to the body of the fish.

So, this picture sucks, but I tried to sharpen it up as best as I could.  I didn't want to leave it out because its kind of an important step.  In this step, you actually finish separating the fillet from the body.  Just run your knife along the body of the fish, trying to keep most of the bones on the bottom of the knife.  It's a little tricky, but eventually, the fillet will come free.

So, do the exact same thing for the other side of the fish to get your second fillet.  I cut a little V out of the center of each fillet because there was a line of big, stubborn bones that weren't worth it to try to pull out.

This is the little piece with all the bones in it.

 Here are my two fillets.  I scored the skin before searing to keep the fish from curling up as the skin shrinks.  But wait!  What to do with the carcass? You wouldn't throw it away, would you?

I threw it in a pot with some onion, green onion stems, celery, garlic, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seed, and a couple bay leaves.

I covered all that with water, brought it to a boil, and then turned it down to a simmer.


I let that go for about 20 minutes, strained it a few times, and voila!

I ended up with a lovely fish fume which I then froze to have around for a later use.  I've actually got something in mind for it, so stick around and see what happens.

Okayyy so back to the snapper fillets.

Salt and pepper the fillets.  Heat some oil in a pan, and lay the fillets skin-side down first.  Cook until the skin gets nice and crispy, then right before you flip them, add some butter and garlic to the pan.  Flip, and baste in the butter for a couple minutes more.

And that's it! I had my snapper with a simple chilled cucumber / heirloom tomato / red onion salad, some pan roasted red potatoes, a squeeze of lemon, and a simple basil pesto.  The fish was sooo good.  I'm still dreaming about that crispy skin this morning.  And seriously, it probably took me just as long to post about breaking down the fish as it took me to actually do it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Good Lunches in Charleston

For some reason, I never really blog about the food I eat out at restaurants. I think its partly because there's a fine line between being a food blogger and trying to be some amateur-ish food critic, which is exactly what I don't want to be.  I'm not trying to go out to a restaurant and pick apart the food and draw attention to myself by taking pictures and whatnot.  I just want to go out and enjoy a good bite to eat.

That being said, I have taken a couple pictures of some lunches I've really enjoyed lately.  These were at places casual enough that I didn't feel like a jerk for snapping a couple shots.


This is a cheese and meat plate at Caviar & Bananas, a little gourmet food shop downtown.  I went in by myself, really just craving a simple lunch, and asked the guy behind the counter put together a simple plate for me.  I told him I really just wanted a nice cheese and meat plate, and that I didn't like blue cheese, and I would pay whatever he asked if he would just pick the cheeses and stuff for me. 

This is what I got!  Not really sure of the names of the cheeses anymore, but I know there was a brie-style cheese, a simple goat cheese, and the third was a little more firm and sharp.  I got prosciutto, and I think some sort of speck.  Honeycomb, fig jam, candied walnuts, almonds, and fruit.  I ended up paying something like $12 for the plate, which was totally worth it.  Along with a little half bottle of white wine, this was the perfect little lunch for one.

 This burger came from Sesame Burgers & Beer, which has 2 locations, one at the Citadel Mall in West Ashley, and the other in Park Circle in N. Chas.  I've eaten at both locations, and while both are awesome, I prefer the dive-bar feel of the Park Circle one. 

Their menu is set up so that you can design your own burger.  This one came out a perfect medium rare, with bacon, tomato, mozzarella, and basil mayo. It was delicious.  I had one of their turkey burgers recently, and it was equally delicious, but without as much of a guilt factor.


Lastly, I was super impressed upon discovering the hot dogs at Tin Roof in Avondale, right around the corner from where I live.  I love a good dive bar, and yet somehow I've only been here for drinks once or twice before.  Their hot dogs are enormous, as in, you can barely eat the whole thing, and they're only $5!  This one was called something like the Texas BBQ dog - it had BBQ sauce, french fries, and cheese on it.  Plus, they have a little stage and host local bands on a pretty regular basis.  It's a badass little bar, and I'm going to start going there a lot more often.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' May Challenge: Enchiladas!

Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.


I'm glad to get back into the swing of things with Daring Cooks.  I was kind of bummed that I missed out on last month's challenge because of all the craziness that has been going on in my life.  Anyways, I really enjoyed this challenge, and appreciated all the room for creativity.  

The mandatory part of this challenge was to make a homemade Mexican-style sauce for enchiladas.  I know my mom has a few great enchilada recipes, so I asked her to send them to me.  I based my enchiladas on one of her recipes, which focused on a tomato and spice based sauce.

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

For chicken:
2 large chicken breast halves
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1 clove minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/2 a serrano pepper, minced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste

For sauce:
2 tablespoons oil
3 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup tomato sauce

To assemble:
10-12 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
sour cream and cilantro for garnish


For chicken:
Arrange chicken in heavy medium saucepan.  Add stock, water, garlic, and bay leaf.  Bring to boil.


Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through.  Transfer to bowl using slotted spoon and cool.  Discard bay leaf.  Reserve liquid.

In the meantime, heat oil in a small pan and saute onions and peppers until slightly softened and aromatic.

Peel skin off chicken and remove meat from bones.  Tear meat into bite size strips.  Place in a large bowl.  Mix in green onions, cilantro, pepper and onion mixture, and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add 3 minced garlic cloves and saute 30 seconds.  Add chili powder and saute 1 minute.  Add flour, cumin, and cinnamon and stir 1 minute (mixture will be dry). This seemed like a lot of spice to me, but it ended up tasting great.  Don't use less! 


Whisk in 1 cup reserved poaching liquid.

Add remaining poaching liquid and tomato sauce.

Cook until thick and smooth, whisking frequently, about 5 minutes.  Adjust seasonings.  I added a dash of Sriracha chili sauce.  I think a splash of strong coffee would have done the sauce justice, but I didn't have any brewed so I skipped it.  Next time, though.

Cool slightly before assembling. 

To assemble:
Lightly oil a 13x9x2" baking dish.  Heat heavy medium skillet over high heat until hot.  Add 1 tortilla and cook until heated through, turning frequently.  Using tongs, dip into sauce, coating both sides.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken filling into the tortilla and roll.  Repeat.  (Can be prepared one day ahead- cover with foil).

Spoon any remaining sauce over.  Sprinkle with cheese.  
Cover with foil.  Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425.  Bake enchiladas 10 minutes.  Uncover and bake until hot and bubbling, about 10 more minutes.
And that's it!  These were delicious and easy, despite the seemingly long amount of steps.  They would be great to make ahead and throw in the oven after a long day at work.  
I served mine with some spicy red rice, sliced avocado, and sour cream, and cilantro.  These would be great with a margarita, but I thought a couple Modelos with a bit of salt and lime were perfect.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Biscuits & Gravy

So, after a long hiatus, I'm finally back! I promise I'm going to post with a little more regularity, it's just been a whirlwind month for me.  Thanks to my little group of loyal readers who are bearing with me and have patiently waited for this phase of my life to pass.

I'm done with my first semester of culinary school! With all A's to show for it!  It did get a little hairy there towards the end, but I still feel really good about my decision to start [and stick to] this program.


For my first post in a while, I decided to make biscuits and gravy.  I've been eating a lot of comfort food lately, which is definitely the opposite of what I should be doing at the start of bikini season here in beautiful Charleston, SC.  Regardless, I'm doing it anyways, so I figure I might as well post about it.

This could even be a nice breakfast to make your mom or your wife or whomever you deem appropriate on Mother's Day.  If you're not working brunch, that is. Which I am doing, along with everyone else I know, considering nearly everyone else I know is a Food & Bev kid.

I guess some [not southern] people have a hard time understanding the concept of biscuits and gravy.   I'm always appalled when people have never heard of, or tasted, biscuits and gravy for breakfast.  It's in that same category as grits.  It's surprising how many people are like "What are grits?" when I'm waiting tables. It's a pretty difficult concept for me to grasp.  I mean, my sister and I were spoonfed this stuff as kids.  But I digress.

I made buttermilk biscuits by scratch, but they didn't turn out remarkably well.  I actually threw out the first batch of dough because it just wasn't right, and the second batch still didn't turn out as fluffy and nice as I wanted it to.  So, I'm leaving the biscuit recipe out of the equation.  Here is my favorite recipe for country gravy, which is based on a recipe I found on

Country Sausage Gravy

1 pound pork sausage (I used less than a pound, and threw in a hot bratwurst I had leftover from a pool day this week)
3/4 onion, finely chopped
3/4 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
S&P to taste
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 cups milk, divided
chicken stock, to taste
white wine, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

In a skillet on medium heat cook pork, onion, peppers, red pepper, chili powder, and garlic.

Cool until pork is crumbly.  Drain off excess fat, leaving a small amount.

Combine butter, salt, and pepper with the meat mixture and stir until the butter melts.  Slowly sift flour over the top.  Mix gently and allow mixture to cook for 5 minutes.  Be careful not to let it burn.  Don't forget to scrape the bottom of the pan.  Add the thyme.

Slowly stir in milk, about a half cup at a time, and incorporate it well. when the mixture thickens, add more milk.  Do not let it boil vigorously, or it will burn.

Add a splash of chicken stock and white wine to taste.  I thought this added flavor and a hint of acid, which this heavy gravy needed.  If it thickens too much, add more milk.  Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper as needed.

Just before serving, add the parsley, and about 1/4 cup more milk; the gravy will thicken quickly as it cools.

Apparently, the leftover gravy develops more flavor if you let it refrigerate overnight. Obviously, I had leftovers, so I'm curious to see what happens.  All I know is that this recipe is easy and delicious.

Happy early Mother's Day!