COOKING IN COMMUNITY: SEAFOOD RECIPES FOR THE LANDLOCKED
As a teen growing up in the East San Francisco Bay Area, I loved sampling all sorts of wonderful fresh seafood that my grandpa would get for his restaurant.
He would head down to the pier at 3am to get fresh fish for the day and it was amazing! Today, as much as I love living in a Montana mountain town, I do miss having fresh fish available. Sure – you can get fresh fish flown in daily at some shops around town, but you pay an extreme premium for it. So how can one affordably satisfy that desire for healthy seafood when you live in a landlocked state? Surprisingly it was my friends from Seattle who introduced me to some wonderful recipes using, of all things, canned fish! Bear with me, as I too was full of doubt about the concept of tasty dishes using canned fish, however there are a few little tricks my friends taught me that have made a believer out of me.
My first experience with canned seafood was the smoked oysters my mom would eat straight from the can, which inevitably caused my gag reflex to kick in. Thereafter, canned seafood was never to be found in my cupboard. Sure I wouldn’t complain if there was the odd anchovy in a Cesar salad, but only in very trace amounts. So was my strict avoidance of canned seafood until last year when my friends, Lisa and Geoff, temporary Montana transplants from Seattle, introduced me to my first taste of Sardines on Toast. I was so delighted and impressed that I want to write about it. Lisa and Geoff, having lived in Seattle, are great fans of the Chef and author Renee Erickson and her restaurant The Whale Wins in Seattle was the first place Lisa tried the Sardine’s on toast and loved them.
With this main recipe to build from, I came up with a simple menu for our evening of "cooking in community". Another canned fish I was wonderfully surprised by were white anchovies in a lemon oil marinade so I pulled out an appetizer recipe including them and thought a watermelon feta salad would be a great accompaniment. Since my dog Josie and their dog Jasper are such great friends (and we enjoy a little chaos while cooking) we decided to include the pups in the fun and our evening was set.
Cast of Characters:
Lisa: Hostess, Business Woman, Pottery Artist, and Co-Chef for the evening
Geoff : Host, Architecture Student, Co-Chef for the evening (and an amazing baker).
Darien: Coordinator, dog rustler and sous chef for the evening
Jasper, Josie & Yahtzee: Canine companions and creators of chaos
❂ Marinated White Anchovies with Goat Cheese and Cucumber (PDF)
❂ Sardines on Toast with Tomato Mayonnaise and Fennel (PDF)
❂ Watermelon, Arugula and Feta Salad (PDF)
Food Processor or Blender
Measuring cups and spoons
Knives for slicing and spoons for stirring
Mandolin for slicing fennel
Spice grinder or pestal and mortar
In order to save some time Lisa roasted and reduced the tomatoes for the mayonnaise the night before and I blended the parsley marinade ingredients in a food processor and refrigerated overnight. If desired, you can toast and grind the spices as well and even assemble the tomato mayonnaise in advance so that the night of the meal is just assembly. Lisa says the tomato mayonnaise is even great after a couple days for the spices to really permeate the mixture.
The Cooking and Assembly:
I headed over to Lisa and Geoff’s, supplies in hand and with Josie in tow. The pups made a quick introduction and we got our preparations underway. While Lisa toasted and ground the spices, I assembled the anchovy toasts so we could eat our appetizers while we cooked. I recommend the Medusa brand White Anchovies packed in lemon and oil. Once the appetizers were assembled, I assisted Lisa by finely slicing the fresh fennel. A mandolin slicer is really the way to go with fresh fennel as it can be difficult to get a thin enough slice with a knife. Geoff prepared some lovely cocktails for us to sip while all took on different tasks to help bring the meal together.
Geoff is an amazing baker, so he usually bakes the bread for the toast. Unfortunately he had been so busy with school and projects that we sourced the evening's bread from a local bakery. Hearty, multigrain bread is a great base for the sardine toasts. I tossed together the watermelon, arugula and feta at the last moment to keep the greens from getting soggy. For the final step Lisa opened the cans of Sardines packed in olive oil. She recommends Matiz Gallego brand as they have a more fresh and less fishy taste. The smell of the cans is a little strong so she recommends taking them outside once the cans are emptied.
The dogs spent most of their time alternately chasing one another around the house and stopping in the kitchen to check and see if any scraps had happily fallen to the floor. Once all dishes were assembled we needed only to plate them. Lisa had been taking a pottery class at the Emerson Center for the Arts in Bozeman so plating the dishes was great fun, having so many lovely plates to choose from. I chose a deep blue bowl that looks like the night sky to plate the watermelon salad and it just added a special appeal to the overall presentation. “You eat with your eyes,” Lisa reminded me. Now, with everything plated, we opened a lovely bottle of crisp Rosé wine and sat outside on the deck to enjoy our meal while the dogs romped in the yard.
Lisa decided she liked the pairing of cucumbers on the anchovy toasts stating, “The contrasting texture of the cucumbers with anchovies creates a nice balance.” Personally I love how the mascarpone cheese balances out the acidity of the anchovies and marinade. As for Geoff, I didn’t hear any specific words rather than him making “Yum” sounds and happily taking seconds. The sardine toasts are delicious and I found it so much fresher-tasting than expected. The fennel salad, which sits atop the sardine toasts, adds a wonderful edge to the creamy deliciousness of the tomato mayonnaise. Although the recipe calls for removing the pin bones in the sardines, we chose to leave them in and I was surprised that I did not notice the bones at all. Geoff's favorite dish of the evening seemed to be the watermelon salad with its contrasting sweet melon and salty feta, but he is also a fan of the sardines on toast. Bringing the dogs along is always a fun experience. Lisa recounted her first taste of the sardine toasts at Renee Erickson’s restaurant, The Whale Wins, in Seattle and said it has been a favored dish ever since.
It was a lovely experience cooking in a group where everyone is comfortable enough in the kitchen to each take on separate tasks and chat while we prepared the meal. This is not always the case when cooking in community, but is nice when it happens. Lisa and I work together, but rarely get time during the day to visit, so cooking in community for us is a great way to catch up, get the dogs together and enjoy some of each others' favorite dishes.
Even canned fish can be prepared in a way that makes your mouth sing. The trick is choosing the right type of canned fish and combining it with lots of wonderful fresh ingredients.