Tuesday 6 August 2013

Catching Up

Hey guys, there hasn't been a post in over a week so I wanted to check in and let you know what I've been up to in the culinary world. Last weekend a couple of friends and I went up to the Muskoka region of Southern Ontario. We stayed at a cottage on Trout Lake near a town called MacTier. Oddly enough, there are no trout known to be in the lake at all, but this time of year you will get bites from small and large-mouth bass, rock bass and perch. This was my first ever experience fishing, and I have to admit, it was a lot of fun. We went out on the lake three times during our two day stay. Most of our catches were just too small to keep so we let them go. I caught a perch that was about the right size but we had to throw it back because we noticed a few worms on it (the only fish we saw with worms the whole time). We did manage to catch a few bass though. The largest one we caught was about 15" long.

"Hmm, another small one... damn."

While I'm no stranger to cooking fish, I had never had any experience filleting one. Filleting fish is typically more difficult than our land-treading animal friends because the meat is more delicate and there are many small, pesky bones. I got a crash course in filleting and skinning bass. It's something that takes practice and I'm certainly not done yet. In my defence, the only filleting knife we had was a little dull. A sharp knife is essential to successfully filleting anything. I will be sure to write a post about filleting fish when I get really good at it. In the meantime, bear with me. So far I've only filleted two fish. The first attempt wasn't bad for a beginner but no prize-winner either. Though my second try on the next day was quite the improvement. I'll get it sooner or later.

After we had our fish fillets, I pan fried them in some olive oil and a little butter. Seasoned them well with salt and pepper and squeezed some fresh lemon juice over them at the end. You don't have to do much with fish that is that fresh. Respecting the integrity of your ingredients will certainly improve your skills as a cook. 

To serve with the pan fried bass, I made an aioli, which is essentially a garlic mayo. All you do is whisk an egg yolk, a little lemon juice, salt and finely minced garlic. Then you slowly incorporate some oil while whisking until you produce the desired creamy texture. Check for seasoning and it's done. Aioli makes a great accompaniment for fish. I also made lemon-scented jasmine rice and a fresh, leafy salad. It was perfect.

I made a couple of chicken stir fries over the passed few weeks. What I do is pound a couple of chicken breasts until they are a uniform thickness and slice them thinly. Then i season the chicken pieces and dredge them in a little corn starch. The corn starch helps to seal the juices inside the chicken and thicken the liquids added later into a sauce. Then it's just a matter of browning the chicken pieces in a lightly oiled wok, adding the vegetables that take a little longer to cook and some sliced mushrooms, adding the vegetables that take less time to cook, a little soy sauce, some cashews, and then stirring until the chicken is cooked through completely and the vegetables are to your liking. The thinner you slice your chicken, the faster it will cook. Just be sure that all your chicken slices are about the same thickness so they cook at the same time. Near the end I add a tablespoon or two of some oyster sauce and some toasted sesame seeds. I served with some rice and garnished with chopped, fresh cilantro and/or thinly sliced scallions. Super easy and rather healthy kitchen staple.

Earlier this evening I made a quick, Cajun inspired chorizo stew. A good stew usually simmers for a few hours to bring out all the flavours of the ingredients. You can use a couple of quick cheats here and there to make a decent stew in under an hour. It's all in the ingredients you use and how you use them. My stew was of chorizo, green beans, mushrooms, onion, celery, red pepper and garlic. Chorizo is a Spanish sausage with gutsy flavours like garlic, oregano and paprika. Then it is cured for an extended period of time so it is already a bomb of flavour. In the sauce I also used chicken stock, which is a great source of flavour from simmering with aromatic vegetables and chicken bones, and tomato paste which is a stupendous product because it uses tomatoes picked at their peak that are cooked down into a concentrated paste. Using an arsenal of elevated flavours like these can save you time and effort in the kitchen. 

I chopped the cured chorizo into little, even pieces and sautéed them in a little oil. This caramelizes them, renders out the fat and concentrates the flavour. Then I removed the chorizo with a slotted spoon and used the leftover fat to sautée some onion, celery, red pepper and mushroom. After a few minutes, I added some chili flakes and Cajun spices. When the liquid had evaporated from the pan I added the tomato paste and cooked it on its own in the pan just to waken it up and cook out some of the acidity. Then I added some chicken stock bit by bit until the green beans were cooked. I added a bit of flour and mixed it in to thicken the sauce and reintroduced the caramelized chorizo. I gave that a stir and let it cook for a couple more minutes before serving it over some jasmine rice that I cooked with chicken stock, lemon and a bay leaf. I added some peas to the rice as well. It was awesome.

An important tip to know about cooking savoury dishes like the ones I've mentioned is to season your dish throughout the cooking process. Add some ingredients to a pan? Add a little salt and pepper. Adding more ingredients after? Add more salt and pepper when you do. Tasting your dish at the different stages of cooking will give you the best idea of what it might need and improve your palate. The more you cook you'll get a better feel for this. Just remember, don't season it too much. You can always add but never take away. A dish with too much salt or pepper can be ruined. Tasting as you go will help you eliminate that worry. 

Sorry for the lack of photos and recipes, but I had to check in with the update. There is much more to come so stay tuned.

The support I've had for this blog has been outstanding and I can't thank you enough. Every month the blog is getting more and more page views. Thank you for validating what I love to do. It's a great feeling.

Take care,


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