12/23/12 7:59am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Peconic Bay scallops seviche.

The North Fork is a beautiful peninsula of land surrounded by Peconic Bay, Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The wetlands, varying salinity, tides and temperatures have created a seascape unique in the world. And the well-drained sandy soil and long growing season have favored agriculture for centuries. As the crush of population moves east, many of our long-developed resources have dwindled, but their traditions hang on. I have enjoyed being a professional chef on the North Fork for the past 40 years, year in, year out and year round. The foods that keep appearing over and over again are ducks, oysters, scallops, clams, finfish and myriad plant foods — including the wine.

As time moves on into the 21st century we sometimes forget that duck farming was a major industry, with production peaking at six million ducks in 1968 from over 30 producers. Greenport was once the oyster capital of the East Coast, with production peaking at about 25 million pounds of oyster meats in the 1930s. Commercial fishing has changed as aquaculture replaces the dwindling supply of wild fish. And the large crops of wholesale potatoes, cauliflower and cabbage have been gradually replaced by specialty farms that seek to compete in a changed marketplace.

But our cuisine, or the art of cookery using the foods and traditions of our area, has evolved into a distinct art form based on these wonderful ingredients. This Christmas dinner is a celebration of some of these special foods. The recipes are intended to serve eight people.

First Course

Peconic Bay Scallop Seviche

Combine in a bowl the juice of 3 limes and 1 teaspoon lime zest. Toss 1 pound of fresh bay scallops in this mixture and add 1/2 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic film and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

At service time, remove the flesh from 2 avocados and cut into half-inch cubes. Lightly toss these in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime. Remove the leaves from 1 bunch of fresh watercress. Cut 1 cup of cherry tomatoes in half.

Place watercress in the bottoms of 8 martini glasses. Add the avocado next and place the scallops and tomatoes on top, pouring the sauce over all. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A cup of oyster stew is ready to serve on a plate covered in hand painted insects.

Soup Course

Oyster Stew

Purchase 1 pint of fresh shucked oysters. Spray a sauté pan with no-stick and cook 1/4 pound of pancetta at medium heat. Remove to a paper towel, chop coarsely and set aside.

Add to the saucepan 1 tablespoon butter, 2 chopped leeks (white part), 2 minced scallions and 1 cup chopped celery. Season with 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook covered at low heat until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon flour and stir it into the mixture, continuing to cook another 2 minutes. Stir in 2 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream and bring to a simmer.

Add the pint of oysters with their juices and gradually bring back to a simmer. Add the reserved pancetta and check for seasoning. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup crushed pilot crackers. Garnish with pilot crackers and serve.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Putting the garnishes on the Long Island duck.

Entrée

Brined/Steamed/Roasted Duck

Purchase a fresh 6-pound Long Island duck from a local retailer. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity and remove the surrounding fat. Trim the wing tips, the tail and the flap of skin near the neck. Save these for another use and rinse the duck under cold water.

Prepare a brine by combining 2 cups orange juice with 2 cups water. Add 1/2 cup coarse salt, 12 bruised peppercorns, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1 bunch fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger. Heat this mixture just enough to dissolve the salt. Add a cup of ice cubes to cool.

Place the duck in a glass or plastic container and pour the brine over it. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

Make a glaze by adding to a small saucepan 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the duck from the brine and dry with paper towels. Place it on a V-rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. With a sharp pointed knife, cut a diamond pattern of shallow cuts in the skin. Place in the cavity of the duck 1 quartered orange, 1 bunch of thyme and 1 bunch of rosemary. Tie the legs and wings close to the body with butcher’s twine.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and pour it over the duck, letting the water end up in the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil and place in a 400-degree oven. Cook for 45 minutes and remove the duck from the oven.

Pour off the water and fat and replace the duck in the roasting pan on its rack. Brush the duck all over with the glaze and put it back in the oven, turning down the heat to 375. Let it cook, brushing it with glaze every half-hour, for 1 1/2 hours. If it begins to get too dark, place a loose piece of foil over the breast area. When finished, the duck should be a dark mahogany color and the legs should move easily when squeezed.

Remove duck from the oven and let it rest, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Cut off the string and remove the herbs and orange from the cavity. Carve the duck at the table or cut it into eighths and partially debone.

Orange Sauce

Purchase 6 navel oranges and squeeze the juice from 4 of them. Remove the zest from 1 orange and set aside. Peel remaining 2 oranges and cut the sections from the membranes.

In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Cook until it begins to caramelize and turns golden. Add the reserved orange juice, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup minced shallots and 1 cup chicken stock. Simmer until reduced by one-third and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Add back the orange sections and the zest along with 1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as triple sec or Grand Marnier.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Raspberry trifle for dessert.

Dessert

Raspberry Trifle

Begin by making a plain pound cake. Cream 1/2 pound butter with 2 cups sugar for 5 minutes, using a paddle and a mixer at medium speed. Beat in 5 large eggs, one at a time.

Place 3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl and combine with a whisk.

Combine 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Turn the mixer on to slow speed and alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spray 2 loaf pans with no-stick and divide the batter between them. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool slightly and turn out cakes on a rack to cool. Wrap and refrigerate.

To make the trifle, make a syrup by bringing to a boil 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur (Chambord, framboise). Remove syrup from heat and let cool.

In a bowl, place 1 cup raspberry jam, 2 tablespoons Chambord and 4 cups fresh raspberries. Combine them gently and set aside.

In a mixer, whip 2 cups heavy cream to stiff peaks and fold in 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar.

Slice the chilled pound cake into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Cut the slices in half to make squares. Fill the bottom of a trifle dish with pound cake (some pieces of cake will have to be trimmed) and brush with syrup. Spread the raspberry mixture over this and then a layer of whipped cream. Repeat with two more layers. Garnish the top with 1 cup fresh raspberries and chill for 2 hours.

(The pound cake recipe was adapted from Ina Garten and the trifle was adapted from Martha Stewart.)

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

10/14/12 8:00am

John Ross (center) with two Coast Guard chiefs at his 1967 graduation from the Coast Guard Commissary School.

As I stood on the dock in Greenport watching the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle come into port for the recent Maritime Festival, I was suddenly full of memories of a time 45 years ago when I was a cook in the U.S. Coast Guard.

My very first assignment out of boot camp was the 311-foot Coast Guard cutter Mackinac. It was based out of New York Harbor and patrolled the Atlantic from Greenland to Cuba. On my first patrol, in September 1966, we were headed to Guantanamo Bay for training with the Navy when we received an SOS from a ship that had lost power in a raging storm off the Florida Keys.

The storm was Hurricane Inez, one of the most destructive storms on record, causing over 1,000 deaths in the Caribbean. To rescue the ship we headed into giant 30-foot swells and withstood 80 mph winds. The screws of our ship were coming out of the water as the bow was buried in the waves.

In the galley, it was too dangerous to cook hot food, so the crew ate cold cuts and bread. This voyage ended safely and we were able to reach the disabled ship and restore its power. But our ship rarely sailed in calm water, as our mission was to man weather stations and be nearby to help ships and airplanes in distress.

Cooking in this environment required holding on with one hand and cooking with the other. Knives and utensils were always placed on a wet towel to prevent sliding. The galley of the Mackinac was located on the main deck, extending the entire width of the ship, with doors on either side to enhance ventilation. It was equipped with a six-burner stove, a large flat-top griddle, a stack oven, two steam jacketed (trunnion) kettles and a deep fryer with a 12-inch rim around it to prevent splashing. All our equipment was electric, as is common on most ships.

Mr. Ross served on the USS Mackinac in the early 1960s.

Surprisingly, much of our cooking was done from scratch. We made cakes and bread and used fresh produce as long as it lasted into the five-week patrols. In rough seas we would have to make some recipe adjustments, such as reducing the liquid called for in chocolate cake to keep it from rolling out of the pan in the oven. At breakfast we often had to turn the griddle up to 450 degrees so that when we cooked eggs over easy the whites would set immediately, allowing the yolk to roll back and forth while it cooked.

But we cooked some very good food, mostly following the recipe cards developed for the Navy and Marines in 1963. The crew ate meals on the mess deck located below the galley, where tables with benches were bolted to the floor and the food was sent down in a dumbwaiter. Our walk-in freezer and dry stores were located in the hold three decks below and required treacherous trips up and down the ladders.

After a year aboard ship I went to the Coast Guard Commissary School for 16 weeks and was then assigned to the Short Beach lifeboat station near Jones Beach. The station had 21 men and three rescue boats. It was very different from the ship in that I was able to write my own menus and purchase ingredients from local sources.

On weekends during the boating season we had many Coast Guard auxiliary officers on hand to help with law enforcement and rescue operations. These people would often have clambakes on the beach and it introduced me to Long Island’s wonderful bounty of seafood.

After a year at this station I was transferred to Governor’s Island, where I became a food service instructor at the Commissary School. This school consisted of intense four-week segments including classroom theory, meat handling, baking and production, which had us serving meals to the other schools on the island. I was able to teach all four segments and discovered later in my career as a chef that these lessons in the fundamentals of cooking were a great asset. At the time it was just another duty station, although a beautiful one, as my wife and I actually lived on Governor’s Island during the last year of my enlistment.

Here are some updated, small-quantity versions of Coast Guard and Navy classics.

Creamed Beef (‘S.O.S.’)

Spray a large sauté pan with no-stick and place it on medium high heat. Add 1 pound of ground chuck and break it up with a spoon as it cooks. While it is still pink, add 1 chopped onion, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. As the onions cook, add 1/4 cup flour and stir it into the meat to form a roux. Slowly add 2 cups milk, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

This dish can be served over toast or buttermilk biscuits.

Serves 4-6.

Stuffed Peppers (‘S.I.S.’)

Begin by making a stewed tomato sauce. Trim the ends off of 6 plum tomatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch dice. Place them in a saucepan along with 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper. Season with 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes and add 1 small can of tomato sauce.

Cut the tops off of 6 bell peppers. For appearance, use 2 green, 2 red and 2 yellow peppers. Cut out the insides and cut the bottoms so that they stand up. Combine in a large bowl 1 pound of ground meatloaf meat (beef, pork, veal) and 2 chopped chorizo sausages. Add to this 1 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons catsup, 1 tablespoon chopped oregano, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Blanch 1 cup brown rice in boiling water for 15 minutes, drain and add to the meat mixture. Stuff this mixture into the peppers and place them in a deep casserole. Pour the sauce over them, cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Serves 6.

Old-Fashioned Navy Bean Soup 

Purchase 1 pound of dried navy beans and rinse them under cold water. Place them in a soup pot and cover with 2 quarts water. Bring them to a boil and turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, dice 4 ounces of salt pork and cook at medium heat in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot. When it has turned brown and released its fat, add 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped ribs of celery and 2 chopped carrots. Continue cooking and add 2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme.

Drain the navy beans, saving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the soup pot along with 4 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add 1 bay leaf, 1 can (15 ounces) of chopped tomatoes and a smoked ham hock. Season with 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook uncovered at simmering temperature until beans are tender, adding the reserved liquid as the broth evaporates. Total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the ham hock, cut off the meat and add it to the soup. Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a little salt to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 6-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].

07/13/12 1:02pm

The lady of this house is in love
with the peach. How gently she places it
on the sill to catch the shaft of sun.
How many times she passes it under her nose
and breathes. So careful she is
not to bruise it, squeezing between finger and thumb,
coaxing ripeness …

While I who am all firm flesh
and smooth skin languish in the vegetable bin,
sandwiched between the stiff carrot and atrocious
onion. I shrivel and grow soft and must be peeled
and chopped, my seeds cast off,
and am tossed in a pot for sauce, beaten
and most horribly mashed with wooden spoon …
‘The Tomato Envies the Peach’  by Diane Lockward

Peaches and tomatoes are the fruits of summer on the North Fork. We don’t usually think of a tomato as a fruit because it is handled like a vegetable in cookery, but peaches and tomatoes have a lot in common: They are delicious whether served raw or cooked; when in season, locally grown and at their peak, they have a pure flavor that needs very little enhancement; and they are both very good for you.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce
Cut out the cores from 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Plunge the tomatoes into 2 quarts of boiling water for 1 minute and remove. When cool, peel the tomatoes and cut them into quarter-inch dice, reserving any juice or seeds. Place the diced tomatoes and the juice in a bowl and add 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Let sit for 30 minutes and serve with hot pasta such as farfalle or orecchiette. Grate fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese over it and serve.
Serves 4.

Cooked Tomato Sauce
This recipe, taken from Marcella Hazan’s classic cookbook “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” is the simplest of all tomato sauces. When the tomatoes are very fresh and flavorful, it is great to show off the delicious tomato flavor without the traditional Italian seasonings. If possible, serve this sauce over potato gnocchi or fresh homemade pasta.

Cut out the cores from 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute and remove. When cool, peel the tomatoes and chop them, saving any juices. Place the chopped tomatoes and juice in a saucepan along with 5 tablespoons unsalted butter.

Peel a medium-sized, full-flavored onion (such as a local one) and cut it in half. Add this to the saucepan and season the sauce with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, uncovered, and let it simmer at low heat for 1 hour.

Gnocchi: While the sauce is cooking, boil 4 Yukon gold potatoes in their skins until fully cooked. When cool, peel them and press through a potato ricer as for mashed potatoes. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1 egg. Season with 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Dump this mixture onto a floured cutting board and knead into a dough. Cut the dough in half and roll out into 2 long “snakes” about 1 inch in diameter. Cut these rolls into 1-inch pieces and make the gnocchi by pressing them against a dinner fork with your finger and rolling them off of the end of the fork. The little potato dumplings will have indentations in them that help to hold the sauce.

Boil 2 quarts of water and add the gnocchi to cook like pasta. When they rise to the surface and cook for about 2 minutes, they are ready to remove and eat. Place them in shallow bowls and ladle the above sauce over them. Grate fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese over them and serve.
Serves 4.

Peach Salsa
Plunge 6 peaches into 2 quarts of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and cool before peeling. Dice the peeled peaches into half-inch pieces and set aside.

Heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. When hot, add 2 cups chopped onion, 1 minced jalapeño pepper, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger. Cook for 5 minutes and add the peaches along with the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

This salsa is really good with char-grilled salmon.
Serves 6-8.

Peach Barbecue Sauce
Plunge 4 peaches into boiling water for 1 minute. Remove, cool and peel. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When hot, add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger. Cook 3 minutes and add 1 cup catsup, 1/4 cup peach preserves and the chopped peaches. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes and add 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and a few drops of Tabasco.

Brush over grilled pork chops and serve some on the side.
Serves 6-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

06/16/12 11:34am

Give me the lettuce that has cooled
Its heart in the rich earth,
Till every joyous leaf is schooled
To crisply crinkled mirth;

Give me the mustard and the cress,
Whose glistening stalklets stand
As silver white as nymphs by night
Upon the coral strand;

The wayward tomato’s glorious head,
Cool cucumber sliced small;
And let the imperial beetroot spread
Her crimson over all.

excerpts from ‘A Ballad of Salad’
by Dylan Thomas

In the beginning of the 20th century, America began a long experience with what is now referred to as “scientific cooking.” The study of nutrition and how foods affected the body was emerging and the home economics movement introduced the notion of control over menus and ingredients that led to a new way of thinking about food. The calorie, the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree centigrade, became a popular way of measuring food intake. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates became part of the conversation. Slowly we came to the realization that greens and raw vegetables contributed to a healthy diet, but they had to be presented in an orderly fashion.

“The object of scientific salad-making was to subdue the raw greens until they bore as little resemblance as possible to their natural state.” (“Perfection Salad,” by Laura Shapiro, 1986)

Salads became popular among the upper and middle classes during the 1900s. “Any preparation that could be served on a lettuce leaf was a salad, and dishes that once would have been treated as savories or desserts took on new importance and dignity as salads; hard boiled egg yolks mashed with mayonnaise, formed into balls and rolled in cottage cheese were called a Golf Salad. …” (“Perfection Salad”).

As the century progressed, we discovered that iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges and sliced cucumber coated with a processed bottled dressing were both convenient and satisfactory to most people. In restaurants we graduated to the salad bar with its many choices of toppings and dressings. Today we realize that eating fresh greens, vegetables and fruits with as little processing as possible and as close to harvest (and home) as possible is not only good nutrition, but an important part of a healthy, happy lifestyle. The role of the chef is to turn these ingredients into modern art, not contrived or forced, but appealing to the senses of taste, texture, color and enjoyment.

Sarah Miller’s Tossed Green Salad
Place one package of pre-washed mesclun greens in a salad bowl to chill. Peel and slice 1 cucumber, scraping out the seeds with a teaspoon and slicing into quarter-inch pieces. Peel, core and cut into pieces 1 Granny Smith apple. Trim and slice 1 bunch of scallions and cut in half 1 container of grape tomatoes. Cut 1 ripe avocado in half, remove the pit, scoop out the flesh with a tablespoon and dice into small pieces. Sprinkle these with a teaspoon of lemon juice.
Set all garnishes aside and make the dressing as follows: Combine in a food processor 3/4 cup grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon chile oil, 3 tablespoons roasted pappitas and 1/4 teaspoon each of sea salt and pepper. Process until smooth and pour into a glass container. At service time add the garnishes to the mesclun along with about half the dressing. Toss and serve.
Serves 4-6.

Boston Lettuce, Raspberries
and Almonds
Remove the leaves from the core of 1 head of Boston lettuce. Rinse under cold water and dry in a salad spinner. Wrap the leaves in paper towels and refrigerate.
Place 1/2 cup sliced almonds in a dry sauté pan and cook on medium heat for 4 minutes and set aside. Rinse 1/2 pint of raspberries and set aside.
Combine in a small mason jar 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons walnut oil, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of sea salt and pepper. Close the jar and shake vigorously.
At service time, tear the lettuce leaves and place them in a bowl. Add half of the dressing and toss the salad before placing on serving dishes. Garnish with berries and almonds. Sprinkle with a little more dressing.
Serves 4.

Roasted Beets, Oranges
and Arugula
Trim off the stem and root from 1 bunch of red or mixed-color beets. Wash thoroughly and brush with canola oil. Place in a casserole and cover with foil. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until just cooked. Set aside to cool.
Make the dressing by combining in a Mason jar 1/2 cup walnut oil, 1/4 cup canola oil, the juice and zest from 1 orange, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced shallots and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously to blend.
Peel and slice 2 oranges into segments and set aside. Prepare roasted walnuts by placing 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder and 2 tablespoons honey in a saucepan along with 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil, add 1 cup walnut halves and cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Put the mixture on a small sheet pan and roast in a 400-degree oven for 5 minutes.
Put 1 package of baby arugula in a salad bowl and add 1/4 cup of the dressing. Toss the salad and place on 4 individual salad plates. Toss 1/4 cup of the dressing with the beets and arrange on top of the arugula. Garnish with the orange segments and the candied walnuts.
Serves 4.
This recipe was adapted from a recipe in “Food to Live By” by Myra Goodman.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

06/01/12 1:17pm

“A lobster from the water came,
And saw another, just the same
In form and size, but gaily clad
In scarlet clothing, while she had
No other raiment to her back,
Than her old suit of greenish black.

“Will you be boiled,” the owner said,
“To be arrayed in glowing red?
Come here, my discontented Miss,
And hear the scalding kettle hiss!
Will you go in, and there be boiled
To have your dress so old and soiled,
Exchanged for one of scarlet hue?”

“Yes!” cried the lobster, “that I’ll do,
And thrice as much, if needs must be
To be as gaily clad as she!”
Then, in she made a fatal dive
And never more was seen alive.
excerpt from ‘The Envious Lobster,” a Fable by Miss Gould,
Parley’s Magazine, 1834

Many years ago I organized a surprise birthday party for my wife, at which I prepared a big pot of lobster stew based on a newspaper recipe for corn chowder that she had given me. As it was in early June, I wanted to include as many fresh North Fork ingredients as I could and I wanted something to easily serve a crowd. That version of lobster stew, containing leeks, fresh thyme, red and green peppers, corn off the cob (not quite local yet), new potatoes and sugar snap peas (or green beans) became a signature dish during the summer at Ross’ restaurant in Southold for many years.

As my wife’s birthday approaches again, I would like to do an updated version of this delicious way to serve lobster and spring vegetables. This version requires making a rich lobster broth, which takes some extra time, but you will find your efforts well rewarded in a rich, complex sauce that brings all the ingredients together. I have also included a recipe for lobster risotto that uses the same broth and most of the same vegetables.

Lobster Stew, 2012 version
Purchase four 1.25-pound live lobsters. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot and plunge the lobsters into the pot. Cover and let them cook at high heat for only 5 minutes from start to finish. (They will not be fully cooked.) Remove the lobsters, reserving the simmering water.

Break off the claws and tails and place them back in the lobster water. Simmer until just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Pour off all but 2 quarts of the water and keep it simmering on the stove.
Meanwhile, split the bodies down the middle with a large chef’s knife and remove the head sac under the eyes. Scrape out the tomalley (liver) into a small bowl and refrigerate. Heat a large sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the split lobster bodies shell side down and cook at high heat until the shells turn bright red, about 5 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup brandy over the lobster bodies and ignite with a match (don’t stand too close).

Add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped stalk of celery to the lobster bodies. Pour enough lobster water into the sauté pan to cover the bodies and vegetables. Season with 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning and 1 chopped tomato. Simmer at low heat for 30 minutes and strain.

Remove the meat from the cooled tails and claws, cut into bite-sized portions and refrigerate.

In a clean saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter and add 2 chopped leeks and 4 thinly sliced carrots. Cook at low heat until leeks are soft and add 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and 6 sliced new potatoes (leave skin on). Add 1 quart of the strained broth to the leek mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and the lobster meat along with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Cut rounds of bread from a baguette and brush them with olive oil. Chop the reserved tomalley and spread it over the bread rounds and place them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Serve on the side as croutons.

For extra flavor and eye appeal, add 12 littleneck clams to the stew when you add the broth. As they open, remove them to a warm place before placing them around the bowl at serving time.

Serves 4-6.

Lobster Risotto
Prepare four 1.25-pound live lobsters exactly as in the above recipe for lobster stew. You will end up with about 2 quarts of rich broth and the cut-up lobster meat.

In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots. Cook for 3 minutes and add 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat it with oil, turn up the heat and add 1 cup dry rosé wine. When most of the wine evaporates, leave the heat at medium high and begin adding ladles of the lobster broth, stirring it in and letting most of it evaporate before adding another. Keep this up until the rice becomes tender, about 25 minutes. (It will use most or all of the broth.)

Chop one red bell pepper and steam until blanched, about 3 minutes. Blanch 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and 1 bunch of asparagus in the same manner. Stir these vegetables into the risotto along with 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives. Now stir in the reserved chunks of lobster meat, leaving the heat very low. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon and coarse salt and pepper to taste. (As the season progresses, substitute green beans and corn for the peas and asparagus.)

Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

05/31/12 8:00pm

The smells of bourbon, sirloin steak on live coals, hash browns and strawberries conjure up America’s heartland to me, especially around Memorial Day.

My very first cooking position in a serious restaurant was in 1965 at Trentino’s, an Italian steakhouse in Omaha, Neb. The restaurant was downtown, near the Union Pacific Railroad station and just a few blocks from the stockyards, which at one time were the largest in the country for beef cattle. Right in the middle of the stockyards was a famous fine dining restaurant called Johnny’s Cafe, which I think is still there. (Johnny’s was featured in the movie “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson.)

At the time, all the steakhouses in Omaha used the restaurant cut — top butt sirloin — for their steaks. The top butt is not the most sought-after cut of the hindquarter of beef compared to the strip sirloin from which we make the famous “New York” strip steak. But I learned that all the strips were sent east to the lucrative New York market and the less desirable top butts were left for the locals. I grew to really like steaks cut from the top butt. They’re very lean and lack the rich marbling of the pricier cuts, but they make up for it in flavor and lack of fat.

One of my favorite recipes for these cuts is to marinate the meat in bourbon, chili sauce, a little brown sugar and some Dijon mustard, grill it on the barbecue and glaze it with the marinade. The perfect side dish is Omaha-style hash browns or cottage-fried potatoes. These recipes follow. Top butt sirloin can be found in the market under various names, but all include the word “sirloin.” The perfect dessert for this meal is strawberry shortcake. The version below is adapted from the excellent cookbook “Rustic Fruit Desserts” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.

Bourbon Steak
Purchase about 2 pounds of sirloin steak (one piece or individual steaks). In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons each brown sugar, chili sauce and minced shallots; 1 tablespoon each Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, red wine vinegar and canola oil; 1 teaspoon coarse salt; 1/2 teaspoon pepper; and 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels
Place the steak in a shallow pan and pour the marinade over all. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours. At service time, remove the meat from the marinade and wipe it off with a paper towel. Brush with oil (or spray with no-stick) and cook on a hot charcoal or gas grill. After turning once, spoon some of the marinade over the steak and finish cooking to desired doneness.
Serves 4.

Pan Seared Sirloin with Bourbon Sauce
Season 2 pounds of sirloin steak with coarse salt and pepper and let it come to room temperature. Heat a cast iron skillet to high and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the steak(s), being careful to not crowd the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or to desired doneness. Remove to a warm plate. Lower the heat and add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Then add 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels and let it come to a boil before adding 1/4 cup of beef broth. When this reduces a little, add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Strain over the steaks and serve.
Serves 4.

Hash Browns
Place 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on, in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool in the refrigerator. When cool, peel off the skins and grate the potatoes into a bowl with the coarse side of a box grater. Toss gently into the potatoes 2 teaspoons coarse salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.

Lay out 4 squares of double tin foil about 12 inches on a side. Spray them with no-stick and divide the potatoes in piles on the foil squares. Place a pat of butter on top of each pile and fold the foil to make a package. Punch a couple of holes in the foil to let out steam and place the packets on the grill, but not directly over the flame. Cook, covered, about 30 minutes. The bottom side will be golden brown, so flip them to serve.
Serves 4.

Cottage Fried Potatoes
Purchase 2 pounds small new potatoes — white, red, purple or a mixture of all three. Wash and slice them into 1/4 inch slices, leaving the skin on. Slice a red onion as thinly as possible and set aside. Mince 2 tablespoons garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. When the butter is about to turn brown, place all the potatoes in the pan. Turn down the heat to medium and let them turn golden brown before turning them over and adding the onions and garlic. Add 2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Shake the pan, turn down the heat to low and cover. Let the potatoes cook another 15 minutes and serve.
Serves 4.

Strawberry Shortcake
Hull and slice 6 cups of strawberries into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup amaretto and 1 tablespoons lemon juice. Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the berries can release their juices. Meanwhile combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon before pouring in 1 1/2 cups heavy cream. Using a dinner knife, combine this mixture into a loose dough as you would for a pie crust — do not overmix. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a ball. When it holds together, flatten it into a thick round and cut it into 8 pieces. Dust the pieces with a little flour, roll them into balls and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and place in a shallow bowl. Add 1/3 cup sugar to another shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper (or foil). Dip the balls of dough into the butter, rolling them to coat. Then dip them into the sugar, coating only one half. Place the dough sugar side up on the sheet pan, bake for 25 minutes and cool on a rack. At service time, cut the shortcakes in half, placing the bottom on a dessert plate. Spoon the berries and juice over the shortcake and place the lid on top. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Serves 8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

05/04/12 12:48pm

I’m Popeye the sailor man,
I’m Popeye the sailor man.
I’m strong to the finich
Cause I eats me spinach,
I’m Popeye the sailor man.
— famous cartoon lyrics

Chenopods are a subfamily of the flowering plant family known as amaranthaceae. They are commonly called the goosefoot family of plants and consist mostly of weeds. But the goosefoot family also includes four of the healthiest plant foods known to man: spinach, Swiss chard, beets and quinoa. These foods continue to show an increasing number of health benefits not readily available from other food families. Betalin pigments, carotenoids and antioxidants are unique to them, along with many vitamins, minerals, proteins and dietary fiber.

Quinoa, a seed that resembles grain, was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Incas. Today, it is prized for its high protein content and the fact that these are complete proteins containing all of the essential amino acids. In addition, quinoa is gluten-free and a great source of fiber.

We are well familiar with the benefits of spinach, thanks to Popeye, but Swiss chard and beets offer much culinary diversity along with their nutritional values. Here are some ideas for including these chenopods in your diet:

Asiago Spinach Cakes
Remove the stems from 1 pound of fresh farm stand spinach. Wash leaves thoroughly in cold water and drain. Chop the leaves coarsely with a chef’s knife and place them in small batches in a food processor. Pulse to chop fine and put them in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 eggs, 1 cup ricotta cheese and 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese. Season with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir this mixture with a wooden spoon and fold in the finely chopped spinach.

Spray 4 to 6 porcelain ramekins (depending upon size) with no-stick and divide the spinach mixture between them, pressing it down firmly with a spoon. Place the ramekins in a 400-degree oven and cook for 25 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack for 15 minutes, cut around the edges with a knife and turn out onto a plate. Serve as is with an entrée or make a bechamel sauce to serve over them for a first course.

Serves 4-6.

Sautéed Beets and Swiss Chard
Purchase 1 bunch of beets with the leaves on and 1 large bunch of Swiss chard (either red or white stems). Trim the leaves off the beets and place in cold water. Remove the leaves from the stems of chard and place the leaves in the water with the beet leaves.

Rinse the chard stems and chop into half-inch dice. Rinse the beets, leaving the skins on but trimming off the root end and the stem end. Cut the beets into quarters (or sixths if large) and place them in a steamer pan on the stove. Bring the water to a boil and steam the beets for 20 minutes or until just tender. Remove the beets from the pan and slip off the skins and set aside.

Meanwhile, remove the beet/chard leaves from the cold water and drain in a colander. Chop the leaves coarsely into 2-inch squares and set aside. In a large sauté pan, add 2 tablespoons canola oil and place on medium heat. Add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons sliced garlic to the pan and cook until soft. Add the chopped chard stems and quartered beets and cook for 5 minutes. Add all of the leaves along with 1/4 cup white wine and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Season with 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Turn the heat up high and toss the ingredients together until the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove the beets and greens to a serving platter and boil the remaining liquid down before pouring it over the vegetables. Garnish with a little horseradish on the side if desired.

Serves 4.

Quinoa & Brown Rice Entrée Salad
Bring 1 quart of water to boil in each of two separate saucepans. Add 1 cup brown rice to one pan and 1 cup quinoa to the other. Let them cook (like pasta) at high heat, stirring every few minutes. The rice will take about 45 minutes to cook and the quinoa about 25. When tender, drain each and combine in a large bowl.
Slice 1 red onion and sauté in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft, and set aside. Combine in a bowl 1/2 cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and set aside.

Toast 1 cup of pistachio nuts in a dry sauté pan and add to the rice/quinoa mixture. Finely slice 4 scallions and add to the mixture. Add the sautéed red onions along with the dressing. Dice 1 cup dried apricots and add to the mixture along with the zest of 1 orange. Peel the orange and cut into small segments for garnish. Check for seasoning and serve.

If desired, garnish the top with a sliced ripe avocado that has been tossed in lemon juice, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Serves 4-6.

Swiss Chard, Potato and Chickpea Stew
Soak 1 pound dried chickpeas overnight. Drain the soaked chickpeas and simmer in 2 quarts water until tender, about 45 minutes.

Remove the leaves from 2 large bunches of Swiss chard and wash in cold water; save the stems. Drain and chop the leaves coarsely and dice the stems, keeping them separate. Slice 1 pound of red potatoes, leaving the skins on.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the chard stems for 2 minutes and add the chopped leaves. Cook 2 minutes and drain, plunging them into cold ice water to cool. Drain and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, add 2 tablespoons canola oil and turn up the heat. Add 1 sliced Spanish onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the sliced potatoes and continue cooking until potatoes start to brown. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Add the cooked chickpeas and the drained chard (squeeze out all liquid). Add 1 cup vegetable broth and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender. Check for seasoning and serve in bowls.

Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

04/21/12 1:00pm
Moroccan carrot orange salad (left) and carrot confit served over arugula with roasted peppers and olives.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Moroccan carrot orange salad (left) and carrot confit served over arugula with roasted peppers and olives.

“But some of us are beginning to pull well away, in our irritation, from … the exquisite tasters, the vintage snobs, the three-star Michelin gourmets. There is, we feel, a decent area somewhere between boiled carrots and beluga caviar, sour plonk and Chateau Lafite, where we can take care of our gullets and bellies without worshipping them.”   — J.B. Priestly (1894-1984)

Carrots are found in every supermarket produce section and most everywhere else vegetables are sold. They are the second most popular vegetable in the United States, next to potatoes. They are available year-round and can be purchased for 99 cents per pound or less. Even the certified organic carrots are only $1.49 a pound. They can be eaten raw or cooked and, either way, they are very good for you. They contain more beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, than any other vegetable. They are a great source of vitamins B and C and the fiber pectin. They also contain falcarinol, a compound that reduces the risk of cancer.

And yet, carrots are not something that people get very excited about. We think of them either as something for “health food nuts” or as just a boring vegetable for people who just don’t care. In reality, their natural sweet flavor, firm texture and attractive color give something very special for a chef to work with.

Carrots have been around in their wild form for centuries, but the domesticated variety that we eat today began in present-day Afghanistan about the year 700. These early carrots were purple or yellow in color and had a more bitter taste than today’s varieties. It was the Dutch, during the 17th century, who perfected the sweet orange carrot. We are now showing interest in yellow carrots, red carrots, purple carrots, white and black carrots. These varieties are not really new, they just capture some of the ancient past.

All carrots are not the same. Being a root vegetable, the best carrots come from the best soil, which would be in organic fields that have been properly rotated to retain their nutrients. Also, the best carrots are sold with the tops on, guaranteeing freshness. Those packages labeled “Baby Carrots” and cut into perfect cylinders are not baby carrots at all. The actual label reads “baby-cut carrots,” meaning they have been mechanically cut from mature carrots, dipped in a chlorine solution and packaged. There are real baby carrots that are sold with the tops on and have a delicate, delicious flavor. Here are a few recipes that might help you get excited about carrots again.

Carrot Confit
Cut off the leaves and stems of 2 bunches of fresh carrots, leaving about a half-inch of stem on each carrot. Peel the carrots and place them, whole, into a shallow baking casserole.
Combine 1/4 cup canola oil, the zest and juice of 2 oranges, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the carrots and bring to a boil on the stove.

Remove from heat, cover with foil and place in a 250-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill and continue cooking in the oven at 300 degrees until most of the liquid evaporates, about 45 minutes. Serve as is or over cooked, dried lima beans.

Serves 4.

Moroccan Carrot and Orange Salad
Grate 1 pound of peeled carrots into a bowl, using the large holes of a box grater. Peel and section 2 navel oranges, removing all pulp. Cut orange sections into bite-sized pieces. Add to grated carrots.

Make a dressing by combining 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Vigorously shake this mixture in a jar and pour over the carrots and oranges. Fold in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and serve over baby arugula.

Serves 4.

Roasted Carrot and Celery Root Soup
Peel 1 pound of carrots and cut into 2-inch chunks. Peel and trim 1 head of celery root and cut into 2-inch chunks. Toss vegetables in a bowl with 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, when they should be turning brown. Remove and set aside.

Bring 4 cups vegetable stock and 1 cup water to a boil in a soup pot and add 1 peeled piece of ginger (about 1 inch) and 3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Simmer this stock for 30 minutes, then remove ginger and thyme.
In a separate soup pot, add 2 tablespoons canola oil along with 1 chopped leek (white part), 1 chopped onion and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Cook briefly over medium heat and add the roasted carrots and celery root. Add the stock to the vegetable mixture. Simmer for 20 minutes and puree in a food processor. Check for seasoning and serve with a garnish of sour cream.

Serves 4-6.

Carrot Cake
Peel and grate 1 1/2 pounds of carrots into a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup brown sugar and set aside. Peel and slice a wedge of fresh pineapple. Dice into quarter-inch pieces to make about 1 1/2 cups. (Reserve remaining pineapple for another use.) Dice 1 cup dried apricots and place in a small bowl with 1/4 cup brandy.
Spray two 10-inch cake pans with no-stick.

In a bowl, combine 3 cups flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, beat 4 eggs with a whisk until frothy. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup canola oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Slowly stir in the flour mixture to form a batter. Stir in the chopped pineapple and apricots along with their juices. Stir in 1 cup chopped walnuts and fold into the carrot mixture. Make sure all is well combined before pouring into the cake pans.

Cook in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick (it should come out clean) and remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, cut around the edges with a knife and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make a cream cheese frosting by placing 8 ounces cream cheese and 5 tablespoons butter into an electric mixer. Mix with a paddle at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add 1 tablespoon sour cream at low speed along with 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt. Turn up the speed to medium and add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside until cake cools.

Place one cake layer on a cake serving stand and frost the top. Place the other layer on top and frost it on the top only. Chill before serving.

Serves 8-10.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

04/06/12 1:20pm

Strange beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
With thy bosom bespangled and banded
With the hues of the seas and the skies;
Is thy home European or Asian,
O mystical monster marine?
Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
Betwixt and between.
Excerpt from ‘Octopus’
by Arthur Clement Hilton

The octopus is one of the most intelligent creatures in the sea. It has the unique ability to hide by changing its colors to match its habitat, wherever it is. It can also move very fast and squeeze its body into small spaces. And when attacked, it can release a cloud of black ink to obscure the attacker’s view. The common octopus is found in temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and Mediterranean Sea. It’s also commonly found in Greek cuisine, along with many fish that are often grilled and served whole. Olive oil, lemon, oregano and olives are some of the ingredients used in Greek cooking. Here are some examples of this ancient seaside cuisine:

Grilled Marinated Octopus
Purchase two 1 1/2-pound octopuses that have been cleaned and frozen. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and rinse. Cut off the head, leaving the tentacles connected. Place the tentacles and head in a large soup pot with 4 quarts of water. Add a sliced lemon, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons coarse salt and 12 peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer very slowly for about 45 minutes. Check for tenderness by cutting off a small piece of tentacle and eating it. Drain the cooked octopus and place in a shallow pan.

Combine 1 cup extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Pour this mixture over the octopus, cover with plastic film and place in the refrigerator overnight.

At service time, remove the octopus from the marinade and pat it dry with paper towels. Cook on a hot grill about 10 minutes per side and cut the tentacles into half-inch pieces. Slice the head and serve over greens or a chickpea stew (below).

Serves 4.

Grilled North Fork Porgy
Porgy, also known as sea bream, is found in many forms around the world, including the North Fork. It is a popular sport fish and is best when grilled whole because of its bone structure. It has a lean, soft texture with a sweet flavor.

Have 4 very fresh porgies gutted and scaled. Place them in a shallow pan and prepare a marinade as follows: Thinly slice 2 red onions, mince 3 tablespoons garlic and slice 2 lemons. Whisk together 1 cup olive oil, the juice and zest of 2 lemons, 2 tablespoons chopped oregano, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the vegetables and pour the mixture over the fish, making sure some gets in the cavities of the fish. Let marinate for 1 to 2 hours before cooking.

At service time, cut 4 large pieces of foil and lay them on the counter. Spray the foil with no-stick and place a fish on each piece. Add marinade and vegetables . Fold up each foil package, leaving some space for air. Put these packages on the grill, but not directly over the coals. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by cutting into one of the fish. Serve whole with lemons and parsley.

Serves 4.

Vegetables à la Greque
In a large, deep soup pot put 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup white wine, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 4 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 4 sprigs of thyme, 12 peppercorns and 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring this mixture to a simmer and turn off the heat.

Prepare the following vegetables: Peel and cut 4 carrots into 2-inch sticks; peel and cut 2 red onions into wedges; trim the stems off 2 dozen white mushrooms; cut 1 bulb of fennel into slices; trim the ends off 1/2 pound of green beans; and cut 1 red bell pepper into large slices. Place these vegetables into the broth, cover and cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped parsley and 1 thinly sliced lemon. Transfer the mixture to a shallow pan and refrigerate overnight. Serve on a platter with parsley and lemon.

Serves 4.

Chickpea Stew
Soak 1 pound of dried chickpeas in 2 quarts cold water overnight. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a saucepan. Cover with water and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. In another saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add 1 coarsely chopped red bell pepper; 1 bunch of scallions, sliced; 1 tablespoon minced garlic; and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Season with 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon coarse salt.

When vegetables are soft, add 4 diced plum tomatoes and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and add the cooked chickpeas along with the juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley. Check for seasoning and serve with grilled fish.

Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]

03/23/12 12:41pm

Are you goin’ to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.
Excerpt from ‘Scarborough Fair’ by Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel captured the rhythm and the warmth of fresh herbs, but it takes a chef to capture the aroma and the flavor they impart to food. It wasn’t long ago that the only herbs available to the home cook were either dried or those you grew yourself. That has changed, along with the notion that fresh is best. Now we can purchase a wide assortment of fresh herbs at any supermarket, usually all year long. While that little touch of flavor and aroma added at the last moment may seem extravagant or not worth the money, herbs used properly can transform a mundane dish into a masterpiece.

Parsley: Although parsley has been grown around the Mediterranean since before recorded history, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not use it in their cooking. Instead, like many herbs, it was used for medicinal purposes. In more recent times parsley was the one herb always available in fresh form but, ironically, used mostly as a plate garnish that was rarely eaten. Today we’ve learned that its palate-cleansing taste and scent of spring, especially in the flat Italian variety, can be delicious. One of the best ways to enjoy the flavor of parsley is in the Argentinian chimichurri sauce served with grilled steaks.

Chimichurri Sauce
Coarsely chop 4 cloves of garlic and 1 medium-sized shallot. Place them in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 2 cups coarsely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley and pulse until finely chopped, but not puréed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes. Serve with char-grilled flank steak, skirt steak or chicken breasts.

Sage: This fresh herb with its strong, woody smell and fuzzy leaves has been around for thousands of years, both in cooking and as a medicine. We commonly associate it with stuffing for turkey or pork, but one of its finest expressions is in the Italian dish saltimbocca.

Veal Saltimbocca
Purchase 1 pound of thin veal cutlets, 1/4 pound of thinly cut prosciutto ham and a package of fresh sage. Place the cutlets between plastic film and pound them out as thin as possible. Cut them into uniform sizes so that they can be placed on top of one another to make 4 portions. Cover the bottom slice of veal with a thin slice of prosciutto and 2 sage leaves. Lay the matching slice of veal on top and press them firmly together. Repeat for all 4 portions and dust them in flour. Put a small folded piece of prosciutto on top along with 1 sage leaf and secure them with a toothpick placed on an angle through the whole cutlet.

Heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the butter foams, add 4 sliced cloves of garlic and 4 fresh sage leaves. When the garlic begins to brown, remove it with the sage leaves with a slotted spoon and set aside. Immediately add the veal cutlets and brown on each side for about 3 minutes at medium heat and remove.

Add to the hot pan 3/4 pound sliced cremini mushrooms, cook until brown and remove. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of marsala wine, lower the heat and add back the veal cutlets, the mushrooms and the toasted garlic and sage.

While this simmers at low heat, boil 1 pound whole grain linguine until just cooked, and drain. Divide this between 4 plates and serve the veal and all the juices on top of the linguine.
Serves 4.

Rosemary: This herb, with sturdy leaves that resemble pine needles, is very aromatic and strong enough to stand up to long roasting periods at high heat. It is native to the Mediterranean but also grows in cool regions around the world. It is often used in marinades due to its powerful flavors and is especially good when combined with garlic and lemon.

Whole Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon
Remove the giblets from a whole 4-pound chicken and rinse under cold water. Soften 2 tablespoons of butter and add 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, the zest from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mash these ingredients together and slip them under the skin of the chicken, being careful to not tear the skin.

Coarsely chop 1 onion, 1 stalk of celery and 1 carrot. Place this mirepoix in the bottom of a roasting pan and place the chicken on top. Quarter 1 whole lemon, crush 6 cloves of garlic and cut 1 large sprig of rosemary in half. Push these seasonings into the cavity of the chicken and tie the legs together with string. Add 1 cup chicken broth to the roasting pan and brush the chicken with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Place it in a 325-degree oven for 55 minutes. Raise the heat to 425 degrees, basting the chicken with the pan drippings. Let it cook another 25 minutes until golden brown, with an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and set the chicken on a sheet pan covered with foil for 20 minutes.

Place the roasting pan on the stove and add 2 tablespoons flour. Stir over medium heat and add 1 more cup of chicken broth. Scrape up any drippings on the bottom of the pan and transfer all to a saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil and add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Strain into a bowl, skim the fat and check for seasoning.
Cut the chicken up into pieces (or carve) and serve with the sauce.
Makes 4 portions.

Thyme: Used for embalming by ancient Egyptians, as incense by the ancient Greeks and as a gift to give warriors courage in the Middle Ages, thyme finally became a culinary ingredient in modern times. It is essential in the classic French “bouquet garni,” which consists of thyme, bay leaf, leek and parsley stems, but I think it is really good in its fresh form with mildly flavored fish such as cod and flounder.

Roasted Cod with Thyme and Lemon
Portion 2 pounds of fresh cod into 4 pieces and remove any bones. Place 1/4 cup canola oil in a small saucepan and add 4 sprigs of fresh thyme. Slowly bring to a boil and shut off the heat. Let the oil cool and remove the thyme after 15 minutes. Mix the juice and zest from 1 lemon into the thyme oil along with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place the cod fillets in the marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the cod on a sheet pan. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup panko crumbs with 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning. Sprinkle this mixture on the cod fillets and drizzle with any of the extra thyme oil. Roast in a 400-degree oven until fish is opaque, about 15 minutes. Serve over wilted spinach or swiss chard.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]