Sunday, May 31, 2009

Go Fish! On the grill.

Summer's quickly approaching. There are two things I love about these warmer months. Sitting on my porch drinking a cold beer and grilling. Now, I'm not a big meat-eater, but grilling season is my one big exception. For those of you that love the spirit of the bar-b-que, but have an aversion (voluntary or otherwise) to red meat, don't despair! With the thawing of rivers in Alaska and in British Columbia come the opening of the Salmon season. Now through August is the best time of year (in most respects, the ONLY time of year) to find fresh, never-been-frozen wild-caught salmon at a grocery store/fish market near you. Salmon does amazingly well on the grill, especially if you cedar plank your fish. But I'm not here to talk about grilling salmon fillets. Today, I want to share with you a recent and decidedly delicious discovery.

The Fabulous Wild Mushroom Salmon Burger.

This is an incredibly easy, fast, and delicious alternative to the standard burger/brat faire. Light, yet filling, familiar yet exotic, this is a genuine treat.

So here's the rundown:

2 lbs. wild (preferably fresh) salmon (I recommend Copper River Sockeye or King Salmon), skinned and cubed
1/4-1/2 lb. baby bella mushrooms, diced
1/4-1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, diced
1 oz. fresh rosemary, diced finely
1 oz. fresh sage, diced finely
1 oz. truffle oil
1/4 white onion, diced
Panko breadcrumbs, add until mixture solidifies

Take the salmon cubes and break apart with fingers until its broken up into tiny pieces. The more ground up the better. Add all ingredients. Add breadcrumbs until the mixture gains a more cohesive state. The breadcrumbs serve as a bonding agent, so your burger does not fall apart on you. After mixing all the ingredients, including the breadcrumbs, I like to let the mix set in the fridge for at least a half hour, as I find this allows the ingredients to coalesce. Following this, portion out into patties and grill. Depending on the type of salmon you use, one must pay attention to the cooking time. A sockeye salmon will be less oily and less fatty, so it will dry out more quickly than farm-raised or any Atlantic salmon alternative.

If you heed all the instructions but your burger still decides to fall apart, don't despair! I often opt to take my cooked salmon burger and crumble it over a green salad, in lieu of the traditional bun option.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Murgh Makhani so good, you will probably eat too much, and then feel sick afterwards. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Murgh Makhani or butter chicken (murgh = chicken, makhani = with butter) is a dish that I have been working on getting just right over the last couple of months. I made it again while down in Florida this week, and it came out quite well. This is a pretty easy to make chicken curry, though it requires a few hours of marination, so you will need to plan ahead! Here is what you will need:

1-2 Pounds Chicken (boneless, skinless thighs)
1-3 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Lime
5 Cloves Garlic
1 Finger length piece of Ginger
2 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
1 Tablespoon Melted butter

Makhani Gravy:
1/2 Stick of Butter
1 Tablespoon Cumin Seeds
1 Large Onion
1-3 Hot Peppers (depending on desired heat)
1 Teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 Tablespoon Coriander Powder
1 Tablespoon Cumin Powder
1-2 Handfuls Raw Cashews (soaked in water for 30 min)
3-4 Tomatoes
Plain Yogurt

Marination is the process of soaking meat or vegetables in some combination of herbs, spices, liquids, oils, and fats in order to impart extra flavor. Often one of the liquids is an acid like lime juice or wine which helps break down the meat a bit, allowing it to better absorb more of the liquid. For the murgh makhani we use lime juice, yogurt, melted butter, chili powder, salt, garlic, ginger, and garam masala. Combine all the marinade ingredients with the chicken (cut into bite-sized chunks) and allow to chill in the fridge for about 4 hours.

Once the chicken is good to go, melt half a stick of butter in a large sauce pan and fry the chicken until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving enough of the juices behind for cooking the onions, etc. Once the chicken is removed, toss in the cumin seeds and allow them to pop. Then fry up the onions and hot peppers until the onions are nice and soft. Next, add the powdered spices and fry a bit longer. While all this is going on, take the raw cashews (which you had soaking in some water for about 30 minutes by now) and grind to a paste in the food processor. If you don't have a food processor, you can coarsely chop them on the cutting board instead. Add the cashew paste and tomatoes. Salt the tomatoes and cook, covered until the tomatoes reduce. Once the tomatoes seem satisfied, add a spoon or two of yogurt to make things a bit more creamy.

Carefully pour the gravy mixture into the food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the gravy back into the pan, adding the chicken and a bit of water to thin out the sauce a bit. Allow this to cook on low heat for a few minutes. Top with chopped cilantro and extra butter if desired. Serve over rice or with your favorite Indian bread. This dish has been known to cause people to eat more than is probably appropriate, so watch out!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Look Mom, No Neurological Deficit! I Made Shrimp Biryani!

As you may (or may not) have heard I recently had the misfortune of receiving a skull fracture and a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage courtesy of some not-so-friendly DC muggers. It is not the best idea to click that link, as it is pretty frightening, though fortunately my case seems to have been relatively minor. The doctor's hospital discharge papers assure me that I have no neurological deficit! Phew! I was finally feeling up to cooking, and it being Mother's Day and all, I decided to make my mom (and the friends that we are currently imposing on) some shrimp biryani. Also, I figured it would be a good test to make sure there was really no neurological deficit! Well, without further ado, here is how I did made themselves!

Biryani is the general name for the genre of rice-based dishes popular in India and the Middle East. This version seemed to be quite popular in the southern Indian states of Goa and Kerala that I visited last summer, so I thought I would give it a try. Here is what I used:


1 kg Shrimp (peeled) (J wonders if half this amount is sufficient)
1 Lime
1 Tablespoon Coriander Powder
1 Teaspoon Turmeric

Biryani Base:

1 Tablespoon Cumin Seeds
2-4 Cardamom Pods
1 Large Onion
1 Large Jalapeño Pepper (or more to taste)
4 Cloves Garlic (finely diced)
1 Finger-Length Piece of Ginger (finely diced)
1 Cup Dried Coconut
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1-2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
1 Tablespoon Coriander Powder
2 Handfuls Raw Cashews
2 Handfuls Raisins
2 Medium Tomatoes (diced)


2 Cups Jasmine Rice
Assortment of Cardamom Pods, Cloves, Cinnamon, etc

Start out by marinating the shrimp for at least 30 minutes in the lime juice and spice mixture. Meanwhile start cooking the rice as you would regular jasmine rice but with slightly less water than usual and including cardamom and the other whole spices to give the rice some extra aroma. Stop cooking the rice when it is just about done, but not quite. At this point it's a good idea to remove the whole spices so you don't leave any surprises for people to bite into!

Next, start the base for the biryani. Heat some olive oil, and fry the cumin seeds and cardamom pods. Add the onions, then garlic, ginger, hot pepper, a bit of salt and saute till the onions are soft. Add the coconut, cashews, and raisins and cook a few minutes longer. Add the powdered spices and fry a bit longer. Now add the tomatoes, and cook until they reduce. Now you can add the shrimp and cook until just about done. At this point you could also add some yogurt to give things a bit more creaminess (though I forgot this step last night). Now you should have a nice base for the biryani!

Add in the rice bit by bit, stirring well to incorporate the base into the rice. If the mixture is too dry, add some water, and cook covered for 5 minutes or so, until rice is completely cooked. At this point, I added some sliced tomatoes on top of the rice, which will steam during the 5 minutes of extra cooking, and make a nice garnish.

When everything was done, we turned the pot out onto a large serving tray and this is how it looked. Not bad, for a first try!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beat that Flu with Caldo de Queso

Hi all, it's been a while. Before we get started let me make sure that you know how spicy this next dish is. Okay? Okay. Off we go!

For this Caldo de Queso you'll need the following ingredients:
5 poblano peppers
1 sweet onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
5(!) habañero peppers
2 tomatoes
6 small potatoes
1 can of evaporated milk
1 package of queso fresco

Preparation procedure:
1. Char the skin of the poblano peppers until they're black all around, like so (I used a thin grill grate directly on my gas stove):
2. Place the charred poblanos in a sealable bag to induce sweating.
3. While poblanos are sweating, sauté the garlic, onions, and habañeros in olive oil. I chopped up two of the habañeros (don't touch your face!!) and put the remaining three in whole. Add some salt so the onions release some of their liquid and prevent burning.
4. Chop up the tomatoes and add to the softened onions. Add salt and oregano and stew until the tomatoes soften.
5. Chop up the potatoes and add them to the pot. Add water until everything is covered. Bring to a boil then simmer until the potatoes are soft.
6. While the potatoes are softening, remove the poblanos from their sauna and peel off all the by-now-easy-to-peel outer layers. Then chop 'em up, like so:
7. Cube the queso fresco and add it to the pot, along with the chopped poblanos and the evaporated milk. Simmer, allowing the flavors to combine, adding salt as necessary.
8. There's no step 8!

The chopped up habañeros provide a base of spice. For the more adventurous among you, experiment (carefully) by opening up the whole habañeros! Don't worry, they're not the spiciest peppers on the planet ;)