It’s hot here in New Jersey. I mean, 100+ degrees (F) hot…plus humidity. To some, this is every day weather and is, therefore, no big deal. For us, however, this is record-breaking, danger zone, fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement hot. On days like today, the last thing I want is a heavy meal. So, what to have?
Ceviche? Yes. You can make something as elegant as ceviche at home. And with much ease, I might add. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things I’ve made. Ceviche, a dish with its relatively unknown roots attributed to South America and Spain, consists of citrus marinated seafood and a few other basic ingredients. This dish relies on an important chemical reaction between citrus and seafood. The seafood in ceviche is technically not cooked, as no heat is applied to it. Instead, the citric acid in the marinade induces what is called denaturation. De-what? Well, the citric acid manipulates the proteins in the seafood, changing their physical and chemical properties. After sitting in the marinade, the seafood turns firm and opaque, just like it had met heat. So, do you take the same risks with eating seafood in ceviche as with eating sashimi? Yes, actually. While the citric acid does modify the seafood protein, it does not kill off any bacteria and such that could potentially be hanging around your fish. However, if you buy fresh fish, then you really don’t have anything to worry about. Really.
So, for my ceviche, I used tilapia. I wanted a firm white fish, and it was either that or cod. I think tilapia has a meatier texture to it, and cod seemed too flaky for this. After consulting a variety of sources (like here and here), I began making my citrus marinade. The following is for just under 1 1/2 lbs. of tilapia.
3 limes, squeezed of their juice
about 1/4-1/3 cup of orange juice (I only used this because I realized I definitely did not have enough lime juice……it worked out well)
about 3 pinches of freshly minced cilantro (fresh is a must. no exceptions.)
about 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tomato, seeded, diced
about 1/4 of a cup of red onion, diced
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 tilapia fillets cut into bite-sized pieces
So, basically all you need to do is get a shallow dish. Lay out all your fish pieces in the dish. In a separate bowl, combine all of the above ingredients and then pour over the fish. Cover with plastic wrap, and throw it in the fridge. I would marinate this for 20-50 minutes. If you take it out before 20 minutes, there’s a decent chance the inside of the pieces will be quite raw. If you like that sort of thing (I certainly don’t mind), then go for it. If you leave it in longer than 50 minutes, it will probably have the texture of overcooked fish. Ew. In any case, my ceviche tasted fresh, bright, and citrusy. The fish got a huge kick from the cilantro and the onion, and the texture was very meaty. The pieces of fish had some bite to them, which I really enjoyed. The garlic undertones complimented the citrus so nicely. It really hit the spot.
So, what goes along with this awesome ceviche? How about tostones? Ah, tostones are awesome. I’ve had good (crunchy on the outside, pillowy and soft on the inside) and bad (rubbery….tough….) ones. If you like french fries, you’ll like tostones even more.
So, what the hell are tostones?
Very simply, fried (green) plantains. Get a cast iron skillet. Fill it about 1/4 inch of the way with vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat. You’ll know the oil is hot enough when you stick the end of a wooden spoon in and it bubbles.
Grab about 3 green plantains. Slice the skin lengthwise, and peel off to reveal the plantain itself. Slice into 1-inch thick pieces on an angle.
Now, you’re going to blanch the pieces in the oil. Fry the pieces on each side for about 1-2 minutes (until lightly golden). Do this in batches. Lay the pieces out on a paper towel lined plate. Once cooled, take a wooden spoon or the bottom of a small glass — whatever you have on hand — and smash lightly. The pieces should still be in tact. Once you’ve done this to all of the pieces, put them back into the oil and fry for another 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the pieces have reached a medium gold color. It’s okay if some get a little dark (one of mine got kind of crispy….). Immediately place them onto a paper towel lined plate. This is so the oil gets wicked away from the pieces, resulting in a crispy crust with a delicate interior. Sprinkle some salt over top of the tostones, squirt some lemon juice too if you’d like. These tostones were perfect. I can’t even be modest about it. I have never made them before, but they came out so crisp on the outside, yet so tender on the inside. And with just the right amount of salt and lemon juice, it was a PERFECT addition to the light and airy ceviche.
Usually, tostones are served with a mojo. I chose to serve mine with some guacamole. I love avocados.
They seem like the perfect fruit (?) to have on a blazing hot day. They’re creamy, light, decadent, and so damn good for you. I like my guacamole chunky, so I didn’t mash this as much as I could have. All I added to this was 1 avocado, juice from 1/2 a lemon, a few pinches of freshly minced cilantro, 1/2 a tomato, diced, 2 TBSP of diced red onion, and a pinch of salt.
I could’ve just spooned this out of the bowl and eaten it.
So, that was probably the perfect meal for a 100 degree day. Light, citrusy, and satisfying. Mmmm….
Yes, two in one day. Can you tell I have an exam coming up later this week?
As I mentioned earlier, I decided to go for a buy one get one free sale of pork. I also mentioned that it has become my new mission to make pork chops tender and delicious.
When I think of tender and delicious, I think braising. Braising is one of my favorite methods of cooking because it leaves meat fall-off-the-bone tender. I was in the mood for something spicy tonight, and I coincidentally came across this recipe for carnitas. Although pork shoulder is traditionally used for carnitas, I don’t see myself buying THAT much (as much as I would love to, that would be leftovers for….a while…and I’ll only be living here for one month more). I decided to take Anthony Bourdain’s advice when it comes to pork:
Love pork in all its many-faceted glory. Respect it. Do not waste it. Use it carefully and well. Cook with it, at all times, as if you were dirt poor; it is imperative that you do not waste a scrap. A highly intelligent animal died so you could have bacon. So don’t overcook it.
And that is what I did. I did not overcook it. Even though I was working with these two smaller than average pork chops, I respected it and tended to it diligently while it slowly braised in a savory and spicy sauce. Embarrassingly, I did not have all the accoutrement for proper carnitas (cilantro, lime, salsa, you know…everything you would need), so I improvised with some potatoes. I braised them right along with the pork chops so they benefited from the sauces and juices as well.
2 pork sirloin chops (mine were small. these two probably equaled the size of one normal chop)
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
a generous pinch (or two) of chili powder
1 cinnamon stick, or about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
a generous pinch (or two) of cumin
a few shakes of tobasco sauce
2 bay leaves
1. cut the meat into 2-3″ chunks and season all sides with salt. preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. in a saucepan, heat the oil and cook the meat until very well browned on all sides. once brown, remove and blot on a paper towel. after blotting, add to a small roasting pan (i used an 8 x 11 brownie pan, as it turns out).
3. once all the meat is browned and it has been removed from the pan, add about two cups of water and scrape the bottom of the pan to release all the brown bits. add the cinnamon stick (or powder), bay leaves, garlic, chili powder and cumin. mix well, and then add to the meat in the roasting pan. if the meat is not about 2/3 covered, add a little more water.
4. braise in oven, covered with foil, for about 3 hours. check on the meat occasionally, turning it, adding more water if it seems to be too dry, etc.
5. once a fork pierces the meat like it would room temperature butter, remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a plate. strain the liquid. shred the pork and put it back into the pan. add the liquid and put it into the oven. cook until most of the liquid evaporates. the pork should be crispy and start to caramelize.
These were the most tender pork chops I’ve ever had. The cinnamon added a real nice warmth to the dish, while the chili powder, paprika, and tobasco added some HEAT. It was exactly what I was looking for tonight. I served it over lavash bread in the absence of tortillas. This would’ve been good in a pita, too. It was screaming for a squeeze of lime and some cilantro, but I was totally lacking. I’ve got tons of pork left, so I’m sure I’ll be making something like this again – only less ill prepared. This is a pretty easy recipe, and you’re left with a lot of free time to either study for an exam or watch a movie. Not to mention it perfumes the place with the most delicious smell – I could not wait to taste it.