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….
It seems as though I never write anymore! Unfortunately, my schedule for the summer is almost more intense than my school-year schedule.
A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to a cooking class at Classic Thyme in Westfield, NJ. The subject was “Supremely Simple Seafood,” which it was. It was as delicious as it was simple. My mom and I recently recreated this menu, and it took us a fair bit of time, but there are a lot of dishes involved.
There were about 15 people in the class, and each group of people was charged with prepping a specific portion of the meal. The first dish of the night was pan fried oysters atop a green salad with creamy garlic and peppercorn dressing. Mom and I got to drain and dredge the oysters. They were huge, freshly shucked oysters and were, admittedly, a little gross to handle raw. Believe it or not, I have never tasted an oyster before this. If I didn’t like clams so much, I would say oysters are my favorite!
The oysters were soaked in a mixture of buttermilk and cajun seasoning, and then dredged in cajun-seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Then, they were fried in oil (not deep fried, just pan fried in enough oil covering the oysters halfway), and dropped on a paper towel to drain while cooling. The oysters take very little time to cook – about 2 to 4 minutes. They had a great crunch on the outside, and were absolutely luscious on the inside. A perfect contrast in textures.
The oysters were placed atop a salad with a creamy garlic dressing. The dressing was really fragrant, and had so many different flavors happening. The dressing involved sauteing some shallot, garlic, and peppercorn melange in some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Once the garlic browned and the shallots were translucent, 1/2 cup of white balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce were added. This mix was reduced by half and cooled completely in the refrigerator. Then, in a blender, that mix was first thickened with some olive oil, and then mayo, dijon mustard, and some herbs were added.
Initially, I was very skeptical about the orange in this dish. I am not a fan of orange-flavored things, and really favor lemon with my fish. However, the orange just…worked. It completely won me over. The fish was lightly breaded and then quickly pan fried, leaving the interior delicate and flaky. White fish has a very subtle flavor, which the orange lifted to another dimension. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, as well. It was seasoned with salt and pepper, and seared in butter (delicious). It was meaty, but not chewy (as overcooked shrimp so often is). It was juicy and succulent; the orange tasted really good with it as well.
This was an excellent side dish. Not only were the mashed potatoes decadent and creamy, but the scallop was seared to perfection. The trick to getting the most flavor out of these potatoes is to salt the boiling water with enough salt so it tastes like the ocean. Once the potatoes are cooked, mash them with butter, horseradish, and heavy cream. That is all it takes, and the result is DIVINE. I love horseradish, it adds a kick of heat without being overwhelming. The scallop was seasoned with salt and pepper, and then seared quickly over high heat so it caramelizes. Searing it on high heat ensures a deep caramelization without overcooking. After removing the scallop, some shallot, garlic, and leeks were sauteed with some lemon juice and butter. This “confetti” of leeks and shallots was placed on top of the scallop. That aromatic and savory confetti balanced the luscious, velvety interior of the scallop.
At this point, you are probably wondering if there was dessert. After all these savory dishes, what sweetness was to be had?
These oat bars were dessert. I am not going to lie, I felt a little ripped off by this. Don’t get me wrong, the bars were really good. Interestingly, the bars never cooled completely, so we had them while they were warm and gooey. But after that intense meal, this dessert did not seem to suffice. I like granola bars as a snack between meals, or even for a quick breakfast if I’m not all that hungry. Dessert? Not quite. They probably should have been served with vanilla ice cream or something to make it more desserty, but oh well. Served warm and gooey, these really quenched my craving for something sweet after all the garlicy-savoriness.
I have cooked a few things recently because I have been home in the evenings (at least part of the evenings), so more updates to come (in a timely manner).