Thursday, February 14, 2008

Miso Glazed Tilapia: A Valentine Supper

After a week of somewhat heavy meals that included Giada's honey ricotta cheesecake for dessert one night, I was ready for something light for Valentine's Day. Fortunately I knew we had tilapia waiting to be defrosted and was planning to poach it in carrot juice and serve on a bed of greens a la Jerry Traunfeld from the Herbal Kitchen. Arriving home a bit later than usual, I walked into the kitchen and was surprised to find my partner cooking away. He was making some chicken gyoza potstickers and edamame that he'd found in the freezer and was looking on the internet for a way to prepare the tilapia Asian style.

In these situations, I must supress my inner kitchen tyrant (but I'd planned on making something else!) and just let things flow. Most times I really love cooking with my partner. He doesn't mind chopping and cleaning up as we go. But sometimes, I just want him to do what I tell him to do or to get out of my way! After 15 years, I can heartily attest that the forceful approach does not work with him. So, the ancillary benefit to me when we cook is to learn to let go. Cooking can be about so much control: of ingredients, temperature, seasoning, timing, etc. I may think that I know what needs to be done next, but I have to consider my words and tone very carefully when trying to influence him in the kitchen, lest he completely leave the cooking to me and he ends up feeling alienated in our own kitchen! I have to remember that cooking is something I really enjoy and have definite ideas about, but I want to include him in this activity that I love so much so that he can feel the love and success of putting food on the table and getting the love for his efforts. So props to him for starting dinner without checking with me first!

His choice for an Asian style dinner was particularly romantic, because we lived togther in Japan in a postage stamp of an apartment for nearly three years at the beginning of our relationship. Japanese food and style are a sentimental favorite for us. So I whipped out my Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh (the title of which literally translates to "Japanese meals or Japanese food") and discovered a simple miso glazed fish recipe that was perfect for the tilapia at hand. I was immediately reminded of the first time I had miso glazed cod at Nobu in South Beach (which apparently is no longer on the menu according to the website), and again was kicking myself for not coming back to this preparation more regularly, especially given my tribulations with cooking cod. Most recipes for this dish call for marinating it for up to 3 days, but Andoh-san thankully includes an "impatient" marinade perfect for the weeknight cook. Leafing through her 2006 IACP award winning cookbook, I was pleased to find recipes for eggplant, a vegetable I fell in love with while living in Japan. I'd bought many last summer at my local farmers market and made some delicious preparations, but never went farther east than Thailand in any of my recipe wanderings. Now I can't wait for next summer to try some of these Japanese recipes.

So here is my take on this delicious fish preparation. Andoh-san goes into much greater detail on some of these steps, so I would refer to her excellent cookbook if you have the interest to learn more. But for a simple weeknight preparation, my instructions below with modifications will suffice.

Saikyo Yaki, Miso-Marinated Broiled Fish
Adapted from Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh

4 to 6 fish fillets, 1 1/2 pounds to 2 pounds [any fish that you like, such as salmon, is suitable. Cod is typical but I used tilapia]

Impatient Marinade:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sweet, light miso, preferably Saikyo miso [I confess I used mild Korean miso]
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake [I had to substitute brandy]
1 tablespoon freeze dried yuzu peel, pulverized, or grated fresh citrus zest [I used lemon and orange zest]

Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. [Personally I never rinse meat products since Diana Kennedy said on the Today Show that it's not necessary. Plus you never see anyone on the Food Network follow this practice.] Place the fish on paper towels and sprinkle both sides with salt. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until it "sweats." Blot away the excess moisture.

Now here is where I diverge from Andoh-san greatly. She recommends wrapping the fish in a single layer in a double layer of cheesecloth and then coating that cloth with the marinade for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour in the fridge. The cloth is then removed (thus removing the marinade) and the fish is ready to go under the broiler. The marinade can actually be reused and the cloth rinsed and dried for the next time. Not having any cheesecloth, I just cheated and slathered the marinade on the fish and popped it into a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes. If you want the crust toasted you can always just pop the fish under the broiler for a minute or so. The marinade is salty, but oh so delicious with the citrus notes from the zest!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chicken Chilaquiles: How to turn leftover chicken and tortilla chips into a Mexican casserole

For me half the fun of cooking is the clever re-invention of a dish into something totally different using leftovers. For this reason alone, though I'd been cooking half the box of pasta long before Mark Bittman said to, I've started cooking the whole pound knowing that with what's left over I can use other leftovers like chicken or vegetables to make soup or a frittata or a simple side or whatever. That's why it's particularly great to make something in the beginning of the week knowing you'll have enough left over to create another meal from something you've "prepped" in your own kitchen earlier in the week. This was the original premise of Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller on the Food Network, though she's deviated from the original format these days.

In this vein, I confess that half the reason I volunteer to cook Thanksgiving dinner is that I know I'll get at least two meals out of that leftover turkey (chili, pot pies, shepherd's pie, turkey divan, etc.) before I even make the turkey soup from the bare bones of the carcass! And besides even though you think you'll never want to eat again after stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving, you and yours will need something to eat on Friday too! So get comfortable with making leftovers. Not every delicious meal has to be made from scratch, but the satisfaction of making a delicious meal from leftovers is a timesaver that every cook should embrace.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post: chilaquiles. The Italian dish panzanella, though it has been dressed up by all manners of chefs into something approaching high cuisine, was originally conceived as a way to use up stale bread. As the Italians don't want to waste their day old bread, Mexicans don't want to waste their day old tortillas. When the cook finds herself with leftover tortillas from the day before, it's time for chilaquiles. Unless you've recently made enchiladas, you probably won't have enough corn tortillas left over to make this dish, and when making a dish from leftovers, it should not be necessary to go the store for any additional ingredients. But I wouldn't use fresh tortillas to start with anyway because it requires an added step of frying the tortillas to make them crisp, which drags out the whole process and seems inherently messy and unappetizing. The really quick way to make this leftover dish is with your favorite brand of plain old tortilla chips, all the better if they're a bit old and stale and not suitable for dipping into guacamole. I searched my usual sources and discovered that chilaquiles can be made with eggs as a breakfast dish, which reminds me of another dish I learned to make--called migas--also from Mexico. It's another great way to use stale tortilla chips or the broken bits at the bottom of the bag by simply adding them to scrambled eggs. You won't need any salt and you won't believe how delicious this dish will taste. Thanks to Rosa Mexicano for that recipe and teaching me about the genius of la cocina Mexicana.

So consider making this dish when you have leftover chicken (or turkey or chili or pork roast, etc.), a nearly full bag of tortilla chips, some salsa, some sour cream, and some cheese (five ingredients). Done. Finito. Bastante! My recipe is closest to Rick Bayless's from Mexico One Plate at a Time, but uses the bag chips in lieu of the fresh tortillas. He uses salsa verde from tomatillos rather than using the typical tomato salsa. I happened to have some salsa verde frozen from the last time I made Rick's grilled chicken with salsa verde, which is a foundation sauce of Mexican cuisine and a great alternative to salsa roja. Here, Joy of Cooking style is this twenty minute meal.

Chilaquiles Verdes
Four Servings

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In the bottom of a 3 quart casserole dish (9x13 is too big) spread
2 cups (3 ounces) of tortilla chips
Crush the chips somewhat so that the bottom of the dish is covered. Spread on top
1 cup (8 ounces) of leftover chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cups tomatillo salsa (or 1 1/2 cups tomato salsa)
over the chicken and dollop with
4 tablespoons of sour cream
Repeat layering one more time with all of the above ingredients. Top with
1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, etc.)
Cover with aluminum foil and bake in center of oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and broil for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. If desired, garnish with
chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, chopped jalapeno, or additional sour cream