The Beginning of the Affair

The Beginning of the Affair

Monday, March 26, 2007


I have to let some off because I'm pissed. No. I'm just kidding...not entirely. The price of fish at Whole Foods is ridiculously high and I frequently miss out on some damn good fish because of this. Don't even think to suggest that I should try Stop and Shop or any other local market for fish. It's not worth it. Especially when steam is involved in its preparation.

The other day I just said, "Fuck it. I'm having fish. Damn good fish!" Finally giving into their monopoly on decent seafood in Providence (Anyone have any suggestions?) I went to Whole Foods to pick up a nice white flaky fish like cod, but budgetary reality wouldn't allow me to indulge my foodie whims. Unfortunately the haddock looked dull and the other varieties of fish didn't even deserve to be on display. (Did you know that most farm-raised Salmon is color-enhanced???) I picked out a couple of flounder
fillets: white with rosy flesh-colored centers, subtle vein filigrees and bright shimmer.

Ideally I would've liked to have a
fillet of cod steamed in Napa Cabbage with some light Asian flavors; however, I was forced to make yet another substitution. Neither Whole Foods nor Stop and Shop had Napa so I grabbed a small head of Savoy instead. I didn't know what to expect of this pairing of flounder and Savoy Cabbage, but I knew that I would be using some of my favorite Asian ingredients so I was at least looking forward to having that.

At home I began my preparations by layering about six cabbage leaves directly on the steaming platform. I nestled both
fillets among the leaves and poured some sesame oil and somen tsuyu on top. Somen tsuyu--meaning somen dipping broth in Japanese--includes shoyu (a highly concentrated soy sauce), citrus, and extracts from various fish skins like bonito and sea vegetables like kelp. Not to be overpowered by the intensity of the shoyu, the broth is light and because of the bonito it is nice and smoky. It's typically used as a savory complement for somen--a wheat noodle resembling soba in size and shape. I used the somen tsuyu as a flavor base and added a few dashes of shoyu to provide salt and highlight the other ingredients I added.

With a couple of minced garlic cloves, sliced ginger that looked like matchsticks, and a bias-cut scallion, I finished assembling the dish. I set the steaming platform in the pot, folded the cabbage leaves over the fish and covered it with the lid. The cabbage leaves were a little resistant to the lid so I kept an
eightball I found in my kitchen on top to ensure that the lid wouldn't pop off. No joke. You can see for yourself. What else is true is that the eightball was the fortune-telling kind and so I felt that I should consult with it to see if this dish was going to be any good.

Indeed it was, but I really would've preferred cod and
Napa cabbage. The flounder held the flavor just as well, but it was the mushy texture that made me crave the flaky flesh of the cod. Compared to Napa's flavor and texture, Savoy was slightly bitter and tough and overpowered the relatively meager fish. The best part for me was the somen tsuyu and the combination of fresh garlic and ginger. The steam brought out all of these flavors subtly and ultimately made it a good dish--although not great.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Missing Her

I left New York a month ago and of course I left things that are near and dear to me: Fairway (the best and cheapest produce in the city if you can't get to Chinatown), Farmers' Market (Union Square), East 5th Street (Bangladeshi restaurants, great deals on Indian spices, and the freshest and tastiest Japanese soba I have ever had in the states), and...Angie!

We've known each other since we were 7. Some of our best moments together involved food that she made. Odd combinations like white Goya rice with feta cheese melted on top in the microwave, saltine crackers with butter spread like cheese on top with a sweep of jam (usually strawberry), and a curious mixture of sour cream, pimento-stuffed olives and olive juice for which the vehicle to our mouths was irrelevant. I miss her...and her food.

We've matured in years and taste and recently our favorite meal to share is brunch--one of the best ones we had which was exactly two years ago. I grabbed polenta left over from dinner the night before out of the fridge and cut it into thick slices. I toasted it on each side using a non-stick pan with olive oil. Just a tablespoon or so to coat the surface area because polenta is really absorbent and you can easily be seduced into using more. If you do, then you can count on ending up with a bland and oily tile of polenta. After a few minutes the polenta was perfectly charred on the edges and a crunchy layer developed on all sides while the interior remained warm and creamy. Oh my goodness...

I plated two slices on each plate and placed in succeeding order a fresh tomato slice, poached egg, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkling of small basil leaves. Angie poured two glasses of Bolthouse carrot juice with lots of ice and prepared mugs of fresh espresso ground Colombian coffee and it was wasn't so until we punctured the yolk. It was only then that we experienced what the dish was really made of. All the flavors came together--deep from the yolk and olive oil, tangy tomato, crunchy and creamy from the polenta with sweet and savory corn notes (ah...and that's the extent of my wine lexicon: "notes of...") sweet and peppery from the basil, and the fresh and bright flavors of the juice and dark richness of the coffee. It was like a re-enactment of dream--resting on the mattress of polenta and a pillow of poached egg rising into an experience of deep and rich succession of flavors or memories abstracted by the spices and drinks.

The memory of this meal reminds me that "relish" is more than pickled cucumbers and onions. Be in the moment and love everything about it...and the person you're with!