(Sniff, sniff! This is the second-to-last recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie group will cook together. I’ll save my reflections for another week, but it seems impossible to be at this point.)
This week’s recipe was the perfect meal for springtime: Seafood Pot-au-Feu. This light, yet filling, seafood and vegetable stew really hit the spot this week.
I was fortunate that someone offered me their weekly fish share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch for this week. A fish share is like a CSA you might have at a farm, but it’s from a collective of fishermen. Quite a novel idea! You don’t know which fish you’ll be getting ahead of time, but I knew I would use whatever I got in my pot-au-feu.
The selection this week was dab. I wasn’t familiar with this fish, but it’s a flat white fish similar to flounder or sole. It was filleted and super fresh. I received 2 pounds, which was A LOT, so I used some in the stew and froze the rest for some meuniere or amandine (or both) in the next week or so.
The stew starts out by giving the longest cooking vegetables, potatoes, a head start in simmering broth with some aromatics. Then sliced carrots, leeks and scallions are added the pot. I really loved how you can prep the vegetables as you go along. No need for mise-en-place. Finally, sliced mushrooms join the mix. My potatoes needed some extra time, so I just let it cook until the potatoes were nearly tender.
Once the vegetables are cooked, they are scooped from the broth and the mussels are steamed. Then, the mussels are removed and the vegetables go back into the pot. Seems a little fussy, but I think it was worth it because there was no interference when removing the mussels from their shells. I suppose you could leave the mussels in the shell for the diner to deal with. We’ve done that in other recipes. I’m not always in the mood to eat with my fingers, and I found that I liked being able to just enjoy spoonfuls with no fiddling.
Finally, the fish is poached for a few minutes before adding back the mussels, some scallops, and some sugar snap peas to warm everything up. (I partially cooked the snap peas because I had to buy them frozen — not in season yet).
I took a few liberties with the recipe to adjust to what was at hand, but it was no less delicious. As I mentioned, I used dab for the salmon. I substituted homemade fish stock from the freezer for the chicken broth (seemed like a natural fit). I also used double the mussels because they were only sold in two-pound bags. I opted for half a pound of bay scallops instead of sea scallops because they were half the price. The adaptations reinforce that this delicious meal can easily be made with whatever looks best at the fish counter.
We both really enjoyed this. The weather warmed up with a vengeance, jumping immediately to summer temperatures with not much intervening spring (though I suspect that spring will come back). Honestly, I don’t always enjoy hot soup when it’s hot outside, but this worked. It was more like a fish and seafood dinner, eaten with a spoon.
I just finished an eye-opening book that turned everything I thought I knew about eating seafood upside down. The book is called Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe. It caught my eye at the library, perhaps because I saw it shortly after I heard a related interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre. That led me to look up his article in The New Republic, “Aquacalypse Now”, which started me off thinking about fish.
This book joins the list of books I’ve read over the past several years that make me both thoughtful and anxious about all the things I eat. Now, I’ve added fish to the list. If you spend time thinking about what you eat as I do, I highly recommend this book.
In some ways, I found the information discouraging. After all that I’ve read about meat animals raised on an industrial scale, I assumed fish and other seafood were a better ethical choice. I already knew there were issues with farmed Atlantic salmon and do try to avoid that. However, I had no idea about the issues behind farm-raised shrimp from Asia, maguro tuna (bluefin), and other seafood.
On the positive side, the author hasn’t given up eating fish and seafood himself. He offers information on the more responsible choices and where to find further information.
Since finishing the book, Howard and I went out for sushi once, armed with the Sustainable Sushi and Northeast Region pocket guides from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. We managed to craft a meal from the “good choices” columns. I don’t know if we chose 100% sustainably, but we did avoid everything on the really bad list – tuna, salmon, and yellowtail (former favorites). It was definitely challenging.
This weekend, we went to our house in Maine. This is the season for Maine shrimp, a sustainable option, so we got some to cook for dinner. In past years, the season was a mere six weeks, from December 1 through mid-January, but both last year and again this year, the season has been extended until May 1 due to an abundance of shrimp.
I made a variation on a favorite recipe for BBQ shrimp from a New Orleans cooking class Howard took before we were married. Despite the name, the shrimp is actually prepared on the stovetop, not the grill. The original recipe calls for large shrimp in the shell. After cooking the shrimp in the buttery sauce, you peel and eat, licking your fingers as you go, and finally sopping up the extra sauce with French bread.
Maine shrimp are small and sweet and very pink. These came without the shell, which makes cooking them very easy, but not quite right for finger food. So, I prepared the shrimp in the same sauce and served it over steamed rice. It was less fun to eat, but just as tasty.
New Orleans BBQ Shrimp
Serves 2-4, depending on appetites
½ stick (4 Tbsp) butter
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tsp paprika
1 lb shrimp
Juice from 2 lemons
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 dash Tabasco
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
½ bunch scallions, sliced thin
Melt the butter in a skillet. Stir in the black, red, and white peppers and the paprika. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring, until most of the shrimp is opaque. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Stir again. Add garlic. Season with salt to taste. Stir in scallions, and serve over steamed rice.