Chilling Out with Seasonal Seafood
By Fanny Slater. Previously Published in the 2016 Winter Issue.
We may have swapped our flip flops for furry boots, but that doesn’t mean we’re done digging in to what the ocean has to offer.
In the blistering summer stretch, the water is made for splashing. But when scarf season comes around, the frigid temperatures present opportunities of the edible kind. And why not take advantage of the frosty water’s bounty? Before fridges were a routine appliance, chefs relied on the cool breeze to cool down their catch. From there, it was off to the plates. So this sea-to-table movement isn’t a new trend. When you hear seafood, you may think light, refreshing fare, but the blustery spell brings a fresh lineup of seasonal specialties just waiting to swim into your dinner.
To start, meet the molluscs. Summer takes these bivalves far from their peak producing a thin, weak, soft texture. That being said, the ‘R rule’ isn’t just a myth—hence September, October, November, etc. putting those briny bad boys at their peak. If you’re planning on swallowing down oysters in their freshest form, remember that the ‘R’ in raw is intentional after all. Other items welcomed back to wintertime menus: monkfish, cod, haddock, lobster, and so on. But it’s not just the selection that shifts along with the weather; it’s the methods of preparation, too. So say no to zesty, chilled gazpacho and yes to spicy stews. Say no to showering fish filets with lemon and yes, please, to panko crusts. Peace out grill; hello Dutch oven. It’s time to warm our bellies from the inside out. Here are a few ways you can turn these seaside delights into winter warmers.
Nothing is more satisfying than a bottomless crock of slurpable soup. To make great use of the cold water’s abundance, whip up a big batch of Bouillabaisse—the Mediterranean’s most recognized stew. This complex fish dish calls for a mountain of those sea molluscs—clams, mussels, squid—along with saffron, fennel, and fragrant bay leaves. If you’re feeling cultural, break out the rouille. This Marseille-rooted accompaniment—a paste made of garlic, red pepper, bread crumbs, and fish stock—is traditionally passed around the table as a garnish. Ditch the spoons and use crusty bread for scooping this Provençal tomatoey broth from bowl to mouth.
Scallops and Salmon
Meaty wild salmon and delicately sweet scallops also make their comeback in these chilly months. Starting with the scallops, break out the cast iron, and crank it to high. Sear these circles indoors until golden brown. Skip the citrus and whisk up a nutty brown butter instead. To keep with the winter theme, tear in some fresh woody sage for a holiday-inspired flavor. Since salmon is praised for its outstanding omega-3 count, AKA “the good fats,” this winter fish is a win-win all around. A simple, quick preparation is all you need for a moist trip to the finish line. Smear all sides with a blend of butter, Dijon mustard, and grassy fresh dill. A short bake time at a high heat, 14 to 16 minutes at 400 degrees, nails a consistent medium rare. For a truly seasonal spin, surround the salmon with maple roasted butternut squash and crispy brussels sprouts sautéed in smoky bacon fat.
Lobsters are less likely to be soft-shelled this time of year thanks to a necessity for their molting period. What does this mean for you? Since they’re a bit trickier to collect in the winter, expect a higher price tag but a more superior taste. This is lobster, after all though, so I assume you’re packing more than a penny.
When it comes to this vibrant shellfish, you might picture yourself poolside in July sporting the classic white paper bib and a chilled martini. But since we’re taking this ingredient from a warm weather feast to a warm, hearty dish—it’s all about that mac. Hold onto the shell, because after removing the precious cargo—I’m talking tail meat—we’re whipping up homemade stock. Some dry white wine, lemon, and garlic later, and you’ve got a base to boast about. Stir in some sharp fontina and fold in the decadent lobster meat and whatever short noodles you’ve got on hand. A dust of parmesan and a quick bake later and this gooey, gluttonous casserole might not make it to
Come February, haddock is in its prime. This fish is known for its sweet, lean flavor, but now can take center stage in creamy smoked chowder. If it’s deep into winter and you’re over soups, another popular preparation is au gratin. In this simple comfort food dish,oniony leeks, breadcrumbs, and cheese sauce are slathered onto filets and baked until bubbly.
One more mild fish topping winter charts is cod. This flaky filet is typically battered and fried for the iconic Irish classic: fish and chips. But I like mine on the lighter side, so I sear it to perfection and top with an herby pile of pesto. I buzz toasted walnuts with seasonal greens like chard and kale. After dropping in several more of the usual suspects—basil, fresh garlic, and a hefty palmful of parm—you’ve got a blissful pair for the thick buttery fish. The dark, aromatic pesto hits a homerun every time.
If that last one sounded so good you’ve gotta have it, you’re in luck. Your fish is my command. See recipe below.
RECIPE: Pan Seared Cod with Winter Pesto
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Season the cod filets generously with the salt, pepper, and paprika. Cook the fish, turning once, until golden on the outside and white throughout, about 10 minutes.
Top each filet with a spoonful of the winter pesto and serve over a parsnip purée with braised endive.
YIELD 4 servings
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
4 ea 6-ounce skinless cod filets
pinch kosher salt and coarse black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 c winter pesto (recipe below)
2 tbsp walnuts, toasted in a dry pan over medium low heat for 5 minutes
1 ea clove garlic
pinch salt and pepper
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c rough chopped kale (a tender variety such as dino or lacinato), about 2 leaves with the ribs removed
1/4 c rough chopped chard leaves, about 2 leaves with the ribs removed
1/4 c packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 ea juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey
1/4 c olive oil
In a food processor, combine the toasted walnuts, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse a few times until the nuts are broken down. Add the parmesan, kale, chard, basil, lemon juice, and honey and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly combined. With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil until the mixture is velvety and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.