Bill St. John

Ocean Perch Tacos

BY BILL ST. JOHN

For certain foods — wings, dogs, spicy eats, or, as here, fish tacos — the default beverage is beer, by wide acclaim. What beer does is refresh and cleanse the palate. Wine can do that too, especially if it carries bracing acidity.

You'll need:
2 skinned ocean perch fillets (6 ounces each)
1 bag (16 ounces) shredded cabbage and carrots
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin and chili powder
1/4 teaspoon each dried oregano and salt
6 (or more, if small) flour tortillas

Makes 6 servings

Make a coleslaw: Stir together in a bowl the shredded cabbage and carrots, the onion, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside. Place perch fillets on a lightly greased broiler pan; brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with the cumin and chili powder, the dried oregano and salt; rest 15 minutes. Broil fish until lightly browned. Flake with a fork in a bowl. Fill 6 heated tortillas with shredded fish; top with coleslaw.

POACHED MAHI MAHI

BY BILL ST. JOHN

Mahi-mahi — like swordfish, shark, and tuna — is actually a cow that swims. These fish are meat: chewy, textured, and amenable to various ways with cooking heat. My mother used to poach, at a super low simmer, large filets of salmon in what I considered to be an unholy amount of dry white wine. But no one ever has equaled how tender the result. It was like pudding with gills. With its sweet taste and firm flesh, mahi-mahi also lends itself well to poaching.

Poached Mahi-mahi
6 servings

Ingredients
6 5-ounce skinless mahi-mahi fillets (each about 1 and 1/2 inches thick)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
Fresh fennel fronds

Directions
Pat dry the mahi-mahi fillets; salt and pepper them. In large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook 3 filets only on one side only until brown; transfer to plate. Repeat with other 3 fillets.

Combine the clam juice and white wine with 4-5 lemon slices, the garlic cloves, and the red pepper flakes in heavy large skillet. Cover, simmer for 10 minutes. Add all the fish, browned side up, and any juices, and cover and simmer until fish is opaque in center (about 10 minutes).

Transfer fish with slotted spoon to platter. Add the shrimp to cooking liquid; simmer until shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer shrimp to fish platter; Keep warm with foil tent.

Remove garlic and lemon slices from cooking liquid; boil until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Serve garnished with the fennel fronds and drizzled with the sauce.

St John’s Sirloin Pork Chops Braised in Milk

Milk, you say? Milk, I say. Some say that leche's lactic acidity does the heavy lifting in the tenderizing department during the braise. Whatever its role, I can't imagine a better braising medium for pork because, unlike broths or juices, the milk breaks itself down, too, into little curds or nuggets that taste something like Sugar Babies.

Swordfish Poached in Olive Oil

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 swordfish steaks or other suitable cuts, each 1-inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 cups good quality but modestly priced olive oil (see note)
Straight-sided pan large enough to hold all fish in 1 layer

Directions
Bring fish up to room temperature if removing from refrigerator, at least 1 hour ahead. Heat oven to 225F. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Pour oil into pan and heat over stovetop burner until oil is 120-130F (use instant-read thermometer). Slip pieces of fish into pan and immediately place in oven. Let poach for 25 minutes. To serve: remove fish with slotted spatula or spoon.

Note: It's not necessary, of course, to use your expensive drizzling oil for this recipe. Also, you may filter the oil, once used, for another fish poaching; it will remain OK in the frig for a couple of weeks, in the freezer for a couple months.

Tips on buying, storing and cooking fish:

— When buying fresh, stretch out your thumb and first finger. Fresh fish must feel like the pad of flesh in between them, never mushy like the same pad when relaxed. 

— If the fish seller allows you to sniff, it should smell neutral, at most like a sea breeze and, of course, never “fishy.” If the seller won't let your nose near the fish, see if she will fan its aroma toward your schnoz. 

— A whole fish makes for cool cooking, so don't shy away from buying such. Taut skin and scales; bright red, moist gills; shiny clear eyes - all are good signs. 

— It’s risky to refrigerate fish for more than a day after you buy it. After the trip to the store, keep it in a closed plastic bag set atop a bowl of smashed ice. Use the back of the lowest shelf above the bottom bins, the coldest place in the icebox.

— Keep on the skin of more delicate types of fresh fish (sole, flounder, halibut) and also salmon. The skin not only helps hold the fish together when eventually cooking it, but also adds flavor. (Score skin lightly with a very sharp knife or razor blade when cooking to prevent curling under the heat.)

— With certain sorts of fish (for example, salmon), when preparing to cook, run your fingertip over the filet to feel for "pin" bones, little pesky pains that run perpendicular to the backbone or rib cage and that lie hidden in the flesh. Remove them with tweezers, pulling "along and away" more than up and out.

— Patting fish dry before cooking ensures crispness of both skin and flesh.

— When cooking fish, many cooks adhere to the "10 minutes per inch" injunction; that is, whatever the method, they cook fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness of the flesh. 

— But that adherence rules out considerations such as the firmness or fat content of the fish (or, looked at another way, the delicacy or leanness), or whether, in some methods of cooking over direct heat, the left-on skin provides, in effect, a heat shield.

— It's better to tailor the cooking method - sautéing or frying in a pan; deep-fat frying; roasting or baking; poaching; or grilling - to the type of fish.

— For example, the more tender chicks of the sea such as flounder, sole or halibut are well suited to sautéing, ill-suited for grilling (unless they are the whole kahuna, nose to tail and both sides now). Grilling is great for “the cows that swim” that are tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi or, often, salmon. Their firm, sometimes-fatty flesh is like fish beefsteak. 

— Packets of fish, in crimped parchment paper (“en papillote”) in the oven, are ideal for fish such as cod, pollock, sole, haddock, snapper, halibut, trout, char — in short, many a white fish and any that are delicately fleshed. 

— Slowly poaching in the oven - submerged in a court bouillon, or white wine, or good quality olive oil - filets of firm-fleshed fish such as salmon, tuna or swordfish, turns out such diaphanously delicate fish flesh that it's like pudding with gills.

— If you bake or broil fish, be sure the flesh is dense, firm and well-fatted. The latter character will baste the fish as it cooks.

Braised Beef Ribs with Vegetables

BY BILL ST. JOHN

Of the two types of beef ribs - back ribs and short ribs - we’re generally more familiar with the latter. Beef short ribs sport straight bones, are 3-4 inches long, and have a good chunk of meat laying on top of the bone. By and large, we braise them, so you’ll find them on many a cold-weather menu. 

Beef back ribs are 6-8 inches long, slightly curved, and have very little meat on top of them, but a nice finger-thick piece of meat in between them. They’re bare of top meat because that meat was taken for the great ribeye, butchered as steaks (the best of the seared steer?) or roasts, without which the English could not get through Sunday. 

Like their siblings, the short ribs, beef back ribs are made for autumn and winter dining, although, unlike them, they also are very popular at warm-weather barbecues. Beef back ribs are finger-lickin' meat all year 'round.

About the only profitable way to cook beef back ribs is “slow and low,” so that means using the indirect method on a charcoal grill to smoke ‘em and melt them, or to braise the ribs either in or out of the oven (or in a slow cooker) for a couple-plus hours. The braise may be as ornate as French-style wine, aromatics and herbs, or as simple as capturing the meat’s own steam in a closed container.

This recipe comes from The New York Times. You’ll note that it also allows for beef short ribs, should you chose to cook those. 

Braised Beef Ribs with Vegetables
from The New York Times — serves 4

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds beef rib bones or short ribs, washed
2 medium onions, peeled, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
3 medium Yukon potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
6 brown mushrooms, washed, sliced
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into thick rounds
2 celery stalks, cut into 1-­inch lengths
3 broccoli crowns, washed, the florets cut apart
10 Brussels sprouts, trimmed, quartered
1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
4 cups water 

Directions
In a Dutch oven or high-sided frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown the ribs on all sides, then remove, and discard the fat. Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and brown 1 onion and 2 garlic cloves. Deglaze the pan with the water, add back the ribs, cover, and put into a 400-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove the pan, turn over the ribs, and put back in the oven for another hour.

Check the ribs. The meat should be tender and almost falling off the bone. If you're using short ribs, you may need to increase the cooking time another hour and you may have to add another cup of liquid. Put the ribs into one container. Strain out the onions and garlic and discard. Put the braising liquid into a second container and refrigerate.

The next day, peel the thick layer of fat off the braising liquid and discard. In the same pan you used the day before, heat the olive oil and butter. Brown the potatoes, mushrooms, and the rest of the onions, add the ribs and the braising liquid. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, broccoli, parsley, the rest of the garlic, and Brussels sprouts. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes. Serve the ribs in bowls with plenty of vegetables, the braising liquid, and a fresh baguette. 

Pork Skewers Five Ways

Pork Skewers Five Ways

BY BILL ST. JOHN
Butchers or home cooks typically compose pork skewers (or “kebabs” or “kebobs” as they also may be called [although I always have shunned the latter because it’s too much voodoo on my brother, Robert]) from the loin cuts of pork. You might use tenderloin, although as is the case with tenderloin, any pork proposition with it is a gamble: with virtually no fat to guard against overcooking and drying out, “regular” loin cuts such as sirloin call merit to themselves. 

Here are five ways to prepare pork kebabs. Grill any of these on very hot coals for 10-15 minutes, turning once or twice, or until the pork pieces are well browned all over but also being careful to not overcook the meat.

Trout Doobies

Trout Doobies

BY BILL ST. JOHN
When Marczyk Fine Foods customer John Roberts was growing up as a Boy Scout in California, he quickly grew “sick and tired of freeze-dried food.” But on his many camping trips in the Sierra Nevada as a Scout, “we could catch trout” and he quickly developed a recipe for cooking them that he calls “trout doobies.” In an earlier age, these would be called “trout nickel cigars” but this is not that age.

Basic Sear-Roasted Salmon

Basic Sear-Roasted Salmon

My friends, Marv and Renée Rockford, prepare salmon this way nearly every Friday night. Needless to say, they get their filets from Marczyk’s; “always,” says Marv. “[Their] salmon is so good and adapts to this recipe so well.”

You’ll need a spatula to slide each filet onto a plate, but from then on, no need for utensils (well, unless you want to carry the morsels to your mouth with something other than your fingers …). I like to squish each bite against the roof of my mouth - they’re that pillowy - and look forward to the (inevitable) day when my yapper is free of teeth and all that I have to chew with is my tongue.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

BY BILL ST. JOHN

A reason underlies why Marczyk’s offers both an unmarinated and a marinated pork tenderloin this week. All by its lonesome, pork tenderloin is notoriously [euphemism alert:] mild in flavor. That’s why most everyone heavily seasons it before grilling, roasting or pan-searing it. Marczyk’s Marinated Pork Tenderloin merely does all that work for you; the Unmarinated Sibling is all yours, ready for your flavorings.

One suggestion is to ur-pork the tender by wrapping it in more pork, in this instance with one of the higher forms of pork itself, bacon (or prosciutto). The addition of sage leaves is a great touch, veddy Mediterranean you know.

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin

Ingredients
1 pork tenderloin, 1 pound or more, at room temperature
8-10 strips bacon or prosciutto, each a foot or so in length
Several small fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay the strips of bacon or prosciutto, one next to the other. Lay the sage leaves on the strips. Season the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper and sear on all sides in a film of olive oil until browned. Lay the loin over the bacon strips and roll and wrap up, covering the loin completely. (Tie the roast every inch with butcher’s twine if desired.) Lay the pork seam side down and cook for 25-30 minutes, basting with the pan juices twice, until internal temperature reads 130 degrees. Rest roast for 5 minutes before slicing thin.