Seafood Fridays – Lobster Ravioli

Market price.

It’s enough to scare away all but the very wealthiest of diners. Usually, when lobster is offered on a restaurant’s menu, it’s accompanied by these two intimidating words.

Lobster RavioliThey essentially say, “If you have to ask how much the lobster is, you can’t afford it.”

Occasionally, however, lobster will show up in the local supermarket at much more reasonable price. This was the case this week, when our local mega-chain grocery store advertised whole lobsters for only $4.99/each.

Granted, they turned out to be tiny farm-raised, previously cooked and frozen. Each whole lobster weighed less than a pound, so that meant they would yield only about 8 oz of lobster meat or less.

Still, it was enough of a bargain to get me thinking of how to turn very little lobster into a very flavorful dish.

“I’ve got it!” I thought. “Lobster ravioli!”

Lobster ravioli — or any ravioli for that matter — allows you to infuse the flavor of the main ingredient into the dish without having to spend a lot of money on food cost. This is especially helpful when it comes to high-cost items, such as truffles, foie gras and, yes, lobsters.

In restaurants, we used to use the claw meat from whole lobsters for ravioli — and lobster bisque — while the meatier tails were steamed and served with drawn butter for, you guessed it, market price, which was usually about $24.99 and up.

Of course, we used live, wild-caught lobsters that weighed at least two pounds each.

Lobster GlutApparently, even the cost of wild-caught lobsters is coming down thanks to a lobster glut. Lobstermen in Maine reportedly have been opting to keep their boats in port rather than harvesting lobsters that sell for less in the open market.

Lobster ravioli is a way of having your lobster and eating it, too. That’s because it only requires a very small amount of lobster meat that gets mixed with other ingredients — in this case ricotta cheese, sauteed onions, garlic and parsley — to give you a much higher yield.

I used homemade raviolis, but you could just as easily buy fresh or frozen wonton wrappers. Even pierogi dough would work pretty well.

I served mine with a spicy tomato cream sauce and garnished it with some fresh chopped parsley.

Lobster Ravioli

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 White Onion, small dice

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 TBS Fresh Parsley, chopped (Plus more for garnish)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

4 to 6 oz Lobster Meat, cooked

3/4 cup Fresh Low-Fat Ricotta Cheese (or cottage cheese)

Dash Worchestershire Sauce

Dash Hot Sauce

1 lb Fresh Pasta Dough (or fresh or frozen Wonton Wrappers or Pierogi dough)

1. Place a medium cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onioin and cook until slightly carmelized, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about one minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Lobster Ravioli Filling

Lobster Ravioli Filling

2. Place onion mixture, lobster, ricotta and parsley in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper, Worchestershire and hot sauce and pulse until a chunky paste. Tranfser to a mixing bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Use a pasta machine to roll pasta dough out into thin sheets. Place on a ravioli mold, use plastic peice to make indentations, then fill each with about 1 tsp of the lobster mixture. Place a second pasta sheet over the top and roll a rolling pin over to cut into individual raviolis. Lay out on a floured sheet pan, refrigerate and let air dry for one hour. Then flip each ravioli over and dry the other side for another hour. At this point, the ravioli can be frozen for later use.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add ravioli one at a time, return to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 8 minutes. Remove ravioli, drain and toss lightly with butter, salt and pepper. Serve immediately with either a storebought tomato sauce, browned butter or simply olive oil.

For my tomato cream sauce, I simply sauteed some onions, green pepper and mushrooms until soft, hit it with about 1 cup of canned chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp sugar, S&P, 1/2 tsp fennel seed and a pinch of red pepper flake.

I let it cook down until the sugars started to carmelize a little then transferred the mixture to the food processor, pureed it, passed it through a sieve back into a sauce pan and put it back on the fire.

Finally, I whisked in about 1/4 cup fat-free half and half and balanced it with S&P. Just before serving, I finished it by whisking in about 1 TBS whole butter, then drizzled it over the ravioli.

Just like downtown!


Seafood Fridays – Tuna Cakes

Canned tuna is just something you sort of take for granted. It’s great for throwing together a quick tuna salad or for making a tuna casserole. But this recipe for Tuna Cakes takes tuna from a can to a whole new level.

Tuna Cakes

Tuna Cakes

I found this recipe on the wonderful Pursuitofhappieness blog, written by the amazing Sush. Her recipes are always spot on, so I knew this one would be delicious, and it was.

This Tuna Cakes recipe reminds me of the Salmon Patties we used to have when I was a kid. In fact, if you substitute canned salmon for the canned tuna, I’m sure it would be just as wonderful. My mom used to smother the Salmon Patties in a white sauce — which I’m sure was simply milk thickened with a roux — with peas.

I dressed this one up a little bit because I was feeling creative. I added a watercress salad — simply watercress, tomato slices, slivered onions and black olives tossed in a little balsamic vinegar — along with some steamed yellow squash that was tossed lightly in butter.

Watercress is such a versatile little green. It’slight, cool and crunchy, with just a little taste of pepper. I love to use it underneath lighter proteins, such as fish. I don’t think it would stand up to anything heartier, such as beef or chicken, however.

I punctuated the plate with drops of red and green habenero sauce, which not only added color but spice as well. While the tuna cakes packed a little punch due to the red chili paste, fish like tuna really benefits from something spicy. Sandi suggested a wasabi sauce, which is what I will try next time.

Tuna Cakes

1 Egg

3 small cans of White Albacore Tuna packed in water

2 tsp Dijon Mustard

1 tsp Red Chili Paste

2 TBS fresh Parsleyh, chopped fine (our parsley from the garden is still going strong!)

1/2 cup Old-Fashioned Oats

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the olive oil. Then using your hands form into four balls of equal size. Pat down the balls into patties and place on a plate lined with wax paper. Cover with a second sheet of wax paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so the patties will hold together better and the flavors can meld.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the EVOO. When the oil is smoking, place the patties into the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Cook until the patties are browned on one side, then turn over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes per side. Then put the whole pan in the oven to finish, about 12 minutes.

I served these Tuna Patties with a honey-mustard barbeque sauce, which I made by whisking together equal parts of all three ingredients, then thinning it out with a few drops of water. I had wanted to put it into a squeeze bottle and zig-zag it across the patties, but I was getting hungry so I opted to drizzle it instead.

Seafood Fridays — Pollock

Pollock is one of those fish that are so common that we take it for granted.

While you normally wouldn’t find fresh pollock at your local fish monger’s, pollock filets are frequently found in the frozen fish section. This could be because the flesh is a slightly gray color, unlike the crisp white flesh of the more expensive cod or haddock.

Even if you think you never tried pollock, you probably have. It’s the fish most commonly used in fish sticks, fast food fish filets, popcorn fish and even as imitation crab meat.

Pollock is considered an inferior fish to cod or other white-fleshed fish, so much so that the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s in 2009 started a drive to rename the fish “colin”, after the French term for cooked pollock, in order to boost sales as an eco-friendly alternative to cod.

Part of the marketing effort implied that British shoppers didn’t like to ask for pollock because its name was too similar to the English curse word “bollocks”. Sainsbury’s promoted the newly-named fish with the slogan “Colin and chips can save British cod.”

Alaskan Pollock

Most pollock consumed in the US is Alaskan pollock, but another commonly used variety is called Saithe. Other names for Alaskan pollock include Atlantic pollock, European pollock, lieu jaune, lythe, Boston blues, coalfish and silver bills.

While it’s not the most exciting fish in the sea, pollock is inexpensive and versatile. It can be breaded and deep fried, pan fried, broiled, or even minced and formed into fish patties. I simply seasoned mine with a little Northwoods fish seasoning and served it with warm salad of Israeli couscous and charred corn, along with fresh steamed broccoli,with a couple of lemon wedges on the side.

I bought frozen pollock filets and they were quite affordable. The flavor was rather bland, so it benefited from the spicy seasoning agents. There’s no real recipe for pollock — you simply spray a sheet pan, spray the filets, season and broil — so here’s the warm couscous salad recipe.

It’s warm because I served it soon after I cooked off the couscous, but it also can be refrigerated and served cold.

Warm Israeli Couscous Salad

1 cup Israeli Couscous

1-1/2 cups Water

3 ears of Corn

1/2 Red Onion, medium dice

1/2 cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped (I used fresh-picked parsley from our garden –huge taste difference!)

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Juice of 1 Lemon

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Bring water to a boil, then stir in couscous, reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, at least another 10 minutes so that all the liquid can be absorbed.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Shuck the corn, then drop it into the pot and boil about 10 minutes. Remove from water to a plate. Meanwhile, heat up the grill. Spray the corn with pan spray, season with salt and pepper, then place on the hottest part of the grill so that the corn gets a nice, even char. Remove and let rest until cool enough to handle then use a chef’s knife to cut the kernels from the cobs.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine couscous, corn kernels, oil, lemon juice, onion and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm immediately, or chill and serve later.

Although corn is still pretty cheap where I live (I paid $.99 for 3 ears yesterday), I heard that corn prices are expected to rise sharply soon and that some farmers are now feeding their cattle candy because they can’t afford corn feed. In the words of the very funny comedian Yakov Smirnoff, “America.What a country!”

Seafood Fridays – Fish and Chips

Continuing with my salute to British cuisine in honor of the 2012 London Olympics, we turn today to another popular national dish, fish and chips.

Fish and chips are the world’s original fast food.

The dish first became popular during the mid-19th Century in the United Kingdom, when technological advancements in the fishing industry enabled fisherman in the North Sea to first use trawling as a method of catching fish.

This instantly provided a large supply of inexpensive fish — mostly cod and haddock — that were used to feed working classes of London and other industrial cities. The first fish and chip shops were crude affairs, providing little more than a cauldron filled with lard over a wood fire.

But in 1896, London restauranteur Samuel Isaacs came up with the idea of providing an elegant, yet affordable, fish and chips restaurant that even the working classes could afford. The restaurants were carpeted, had tablecloths, china, flowers and cutlery and guests were served by waiters.

The concept was an instant success and the first fast food restaurant chain was born. Several Sam Isaac’s London restaurants soon expanded to include units in every major English city and resort area. At its peak, the chain had 30 locations.

Typical British Chippy

Although Sam Isaac’s is no longer around, there are still many fish and chip shops, known locally as a “chippy” or “chipper”, throughout the UK.

In the US, Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips — a restaurant chain named for the English character actor and former Merv Griffin sidekick — continues to operate 45 restaurants in the US. Another popular chain, Long John Silver’s — named for a character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” — has more than 1,200 units worldwide.

In the UK, “chips” are slices of potato deep fried in oil, sort of like the US version of potato chips except thicker and cooked fresh. British fish and chips usually are served with salt and vinegar, especialy malt vinegar. In the US, fish and chips are served with a tartar sauce, mayo or the ubiquitous ketchup.

Traditionally, fish and chips are served in white wax spaper surrounded by newspaper, but this method has been banned in England due to fears about ink poisoning. Modern newspaper printing methods, however, make that all but impossible. I think it gives it an  authentic look, so I usually use newspaper for my fish and chip presentations. I served mine with oven baked sweet potato fries and tartar sauce and lemon wedges on the side.

Fish and Chips

1 lb Fish, just about any type of flaky, white fish will do, I used tilapia

2 Eggs, beaten

1 cup Bread Crumbs

1 tsp Red Pepper Flake

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

3 TBS Canola Oil (you may need to add a little more for subsequent batches as the fish absorbs some of the oil)

For the Tartar Sauce

1/2 cup Reduced Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Fat Free Sour Cream

2 TBS Capers

1 TBS Pickle Relish

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

2 Green Onions, sliced thin

Lemon Wedges, served on the side

Fresh Parsley, for garnish

1. Mix all the ingredients for the tartar sauce together in a mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to the flavors can meld together.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Put cast iron grill over a medium heat. When hot, add the oil. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and red pepper flake in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Cut the fish into easy-to-handle segments, roughly 4″x2″ each. One at a time, submerge in the egg then dredge in the seasoned bread crumbs.

3. In batches, place the fish in the hot oil, being careful not to splash yourself, and fry on each side until golden brown. Leave room between each fish peice so they cook thoroughly, don’t crowd the pan. When nicely browned, transfer fish peices to a sheet pan and hold in the oven until all the fish is cooked. The fish will continue to cook in the oven as you complete frying all the fish.

If you prefer, you also can serve this with fried potatoes, which of course is more traditional.


Seafood Fridays – Crab Salad

Crab is something I enjoy, but don’t get to have very often.

That’s because I live in Chicago, where we have a lot of Coho salmon, smelt and lake perch, but not a lot of fresh crab.

In the Spring, I look forward to soft shell crabs, which are blue crabs that have shed their outer shell and have not yet formed new hard exterior shells, making them about 95 percent edible and 100 percent delicious. They are only available for a brief period, which makes them even more of a special treat.

At one of the casinos where I worked, we used to get several 1,000 pound pallets of frozen king crab legs for crab leg night each Friday.

And when I’m in Florida, of course I love blue crab and stone crab claws, which are abundant there.

For Chicagoans, however, crab is not something we get very often. So I was surprised when I saw fresh Dungeness crab claw meat at one of the local produce marts. Dungeness crab usually comes from the West Coast. I quickly snatched it up and started planning some special way of preparing it.

Crab cakes would be the obvious route, but I made those not too long ago and wanted to try something different.

That’s when I came across this recipe for Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad. Besides crab, it also features mango, which are in season and super inexpensive right now.

Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad

For the Sauce

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive OIl

1 ripe Mango, peeled, pitted and diced

1/4 cup Water

1 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Sea Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

For the Salad

1 lb Crab Claw meat, picked through to remove small peices of shell or cartilage

Juice of 1 Lime


1 TBS Fresh Parsley, chopped

2 twp Fresh Mint, chopped

1 TBS Shallot, minced

1 ripe Mango, peeled, pitted and diced

1 ripe Avocado, pitted, peeled and diced

Tabasco Sauce

Sea Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Ruby Red Grapefruit, cut into supremes (for garnish)

1. To make the sauce, put a small saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the EVOO. When oil is hot, add the mango and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook down the mango until it is soft, about 3 minutes. In a measuring cup, combine the water and the lemon jucie, then add the liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil, then turn off. Transfer to blender and puree until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

2. The salad is actually two salads. The first is the crab salad. In a mixing bowl, combine the crab, 2 tsp of the parsley, 1 tsp of the mint, shallot, the juice of 1/2 a lime, 2 TBS of EVOO, and 10 drops of Tabasco sauce. Toss together, season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

3. The second salad is a mango salsa. In a mixing bowl, combine the mangos, avocado, 1 TBS EVEOO, the juice of the other half lime, the remaining parsley and mint, 10 drops of Tabasco, and a little S&P. Toss carefully so you don’t mash the diced avocado. Cover with plastic and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4. To plate, drizzle the sauce on the bottom of a chilled salad plate then use a tablespoon to make a pile of the avocado salsa. Then use a separate clean tablespoon to make a pile of the crab salad on top of the salsa. Finally, arrange the grapefruit segments around the salad for garnish.

While the whole dish was a smash hit, I was particularly impressed with the mango sauce. It was sweet and smooth. I’m freezing the leftover sauce right now because I think it would make a good homemade mango sorbet. I will let you know how it turns out.

Seafood Fridays – Shrimp Diablo

Shrimp Diablo is one of those dishes that takes a lot of different forms, depending where you get it.

Some versions are Italian-inluenced, served with a tomato sauce over heavy pastas. Some are Mexican style, served with Spanish rice. There are even French variations, with a tomato cream sauce spiked with white wine. Others are more mainstream American, with the spiced garlic shrimp served by themselves in a small broiler plate.

The common denominator are that they are all spicy, usually via either red pepper flake or cayenne pepper. That’s where the “diablo”, Spanish for “devil”, comes into play.

For this recipe, I took the best elements of each. While keeping the spicy shrimp, I threw out all the heavier ingredients — the cream and tomato sauce — and replaced them with lighter ingredients, namely chunky tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

The result was a refreshing pasta dish that is appropriate even during the warmest summer months. As I stated a few days ago, with all the hot weather this summer, it has been a challenge to come up with fresh dishes that are light and delicious without repeating the same themes over and over again, like big salads and grilled foods.

This dish definitely fits into that category. By using angel hair pasta — rather than a denser pasta like spaghetti, vermicelli or linguini — and reducing portion size, it’s an entree with bold flavors that won’t weight you down. And the spiciness and acidity of the marinade balance the sweetness of shrimp.

Marina City as seen from the Chicago River

It could have been even lighter had I made my own pasta using my favorite new toy, but my daughter, Maggie, and I spent the afternoon on Chicago’s wonderful architectural boat tour and I simply ran out of time, opting for store-bought angel hair instead.

Shrimp Diablo

1 lb 21/25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, or more if you like it spicier

Juice of one Lime

1 box Angel Hair Pasta

1 medium White Onion, small dice

1/2 Green Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1/2 cup Dry White Wine

28 oz can Diced Tomatoes

6 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1/2 cup Black Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

Sea salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated plus more for garnish

Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine shrimp, 1 TBS EVOO, 1 TBS of the crushed garlic, cayenne and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to marinate

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, about 4 minutes. Strain and return to pot. Toss with 2 TBS EVOO and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Put a sauce pot over a medium heat. When hot, add 2 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in remaining garlic, cook another minute, then stir in the white wine. Reduce heat and cook uncovered until wine is reduced by about half. Add tomatoes and olives, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and cook over a low heat until tomatoes begin to break down, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Put a saute pan over a high heat. When very hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add shrimp and all the marinade. Use a wooden spoon to arrange the shrimp into an even layer and cook until shrimp begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Toss and cook until the other side is browned.

5. To plate, use a tongs to arrange the pasta in a tall pile in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a kitchen spoon to ladle the sauce over the pasta. Arrange the shrimp artfully around the pasta. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley sprigs.

This is one of those dishes that creates a lot of dirty pots and dishes, but it’s light and refreshing summertime flavor makes it all worthwhile.

Seafood Fridays – Scallops

Usually, if a restaurant has scallops in its menu, I’ll order it.

That’s because here in the Midwest, scallops aren’t the menu mainstay they are on the East and West Coasts, possibly due to their being highly perishable.

Scallops are bivalve sea creatures that can be found on nearly every seashore in the US, from Maine down to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico and up the Pacific Coast to Alaska.

In restaurants, however, when we refer to “scallops”, we actually are talking only about the abductor muscle the creature uses to open and close its shell. The muscle is quite large in comparison to the size of the shell, about 1 inch in diameter compared to a sea scallop’s average 5-inch shell.

That’s because unlike mussels or oysters, which tend to lie in beds or adhere to surfaces, scallops are highly mobile and migrate vast distances in search of food and to avoid predators. Their mobility is attributed to the big abductor muscle, which the scallop uses to forcefully open and close its shell, propelling itself in great leaps of 3 feet and longer.

A scallop can’t survive out of the water for more than a minute or two and quickly begins to deteriorate, so commercial fishermen remove the abductor muscle from the scallop, soaking it in icy fresh water. This causes the meaty muscle to swell up, increasing its bulk by about a third and causing the orange-tinted abductor muscle to turn white. It also loses some of its naturally nutty and sweet flavor, but is allows time to get the scallop to market.

Even so, the quality of a scallop declines with each hour and should be consumed within 48 hours of harvest for optimal flavor. Hence, their absence on many inland menus.

There are 400 different species of scallops, but only two broad categories: Sea scallops and bay scallops. Usually when you order scallops, you will receive sea scallops. These hockey-puck shaped delicacies usually range from about 1″ to 2″ in diameter. If you are buying them fresh, along one side they have a little nub of a counter-muscle which usually is removed because it is tougher than the main abductor muscle, although it is edible.

Bay Scallops

Bay scallops are much smaller, about the size of a gumdrop, and are harvested from Cape Hatteras down the Florida Coast and up around the state’s Gulf side. Other than the size, I’ve never found a substantial taste difference between sea scallops and bay scallops.

Scallops are kept in water and shipped in cans about the size of paint cans. They must be used right away because they go bad within a day or two. If one scallop in the can is bad, usually the whole can must be thrown out because the odor will be absorbed by the other scallops.

Some high end restaurants sometimes list their scallops as “diver caught”. In my experience, this is simply marketing and diver caught scallops and regular scallops all come out of the same can.

Occasionally, I will find scallops at my local fish monger’s. They tend to be more expensive than other seafood — these were $13.99/lb — so they are only an occasional extravagance for me. Also, my wife doesn’t like scallops and won’t eat them, so they are all for me.

I usually pan sear scallops by getting a non-stick pan very hot, then adding oil and letting it reach the smoke point. You want to dry off the scallops with a paper towel, otherwise the moisture will cause the pan to flambe when you add the scallops to the pan.

I simply season the scallops with sea salt and fresly cracked black pepper then carefully add them to the smoking hot oil, letting them brown nicely, about three minutes per side. Overcooked scallops become tough and chewy, so be careful not to let them sit in the pan too long.

Scallop Shell

Scallops also can be grilled if they are large enough not to fall through the grates. Theyalso can be poached.

I served these scallops over creamy polenta garnished with braised mustard greens and drizzed with a roasted garlic butter sauce. The flavor combinations were superb.

A popular way to serve scallops is inside a hallowed out scallop shell, which are quite beautiful. If you are not familiar with what they look like, the logo for Shell gasoline is a scallop shell.


Seafood Fridays – Tilapia

Is tilapia the new turkey?

It may not be featured on many tables this Thanksgiving, but Tilapia has become the go-to fish of the 21st Century. That’s because it can be farm-raised quickly and cheaply.

While the price of many other types of fish — especially fresh tuna, salmon and even halibut — are sky high, tilapia remains a true bargain, usually available for less than $2/lb.

Farm-raised tilapia is good for you, although perhaps not as good as other fish. In the US, most tilapia farms use corn as their primary fish food. This causes the tilapia to have lower amounts of Omega-3 fats, which are the healthy oils that prompt dieticians to recommend eating more fish in the first place.

On the bright side, farm-raised tilapia contain almost no mercury, which is not the case with wild caught fish.

Tilapia is a neutral flavored fish, which allows it to be paired with all kinds of other ingredients and it can prepared in a wide variety of ways. This, combined with its astonishing low price, is probably why it has become so popular in recent years. Since 2005, the US production of tilapia has almost doubled, from 1.5 million tons to 2.5 million tons.

Like turkey, tilapia is extremely low in fat and amazingly versatile, making it a good substitute for more fat-rich proteins such as beef, pork or even chicken.

In this recipe, which I adapted from this one on the wonderful How Sweet It Is blog, I used tilapia in exactly they same way I would ground turkey. Although the flavor was not completely neutral — you definitely could tell you were eating fish — it was not overpowering and served as a great conduit to highlight the other flavors in the mixture.

The texture was identical to ground turkey, however, and the cost was even lower. Once I got used to the idea of putting fish filets in the food processor, I found this to be an excellent light, summertime dinner that tastes terrific and offers a healthier alternative to burgers and dogs at your next cookout.

Tilapia Burgers with Watermelon and Avocado Salsa

1-1/2 lb Tilapia (fresh or frozen and thawed)

2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 egg + 1 egg white, lightly beaten

2 TBS Dijon Mustard

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/2 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Paprika

1 tsp Onion Powder

1 TBS Sunflower Oil

1 Avocado, peeled, pit removed, diced

1 cup Watermelon, seedless or seeds removed, diced

1/4 Red Onion, small dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1/2 cup Cilantro, choppped

Juice of 1 lime

6 Whole Wheat Burger Buns

1. Add tilapia to food processor and pulse until chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, parika, onion powder and basil. Mix with a spatula until combined, then form into 6 patties. Place on a plate covered with wax paper and cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Place plate in refrigerator or freezer so that patties can adhere together better.

2.  Preheat oven to 375F. Place a cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add patties and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, then put entire skillet in the oven to finish, about 10 minutes.

3. While burgers are finishing, make the salsa  by combining watermelon, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and avocado in a mixing bowl. Season with a pinch of coarse salt (for crunch) and more fresh cracked black pepper.

4. To serve burgers, toast bun then top with tiliapia patty. Use a tablespoon to add the salsa so that it is tumbling down from the top of the patty.

Panko is a type of Japanese breadcrumbs that are larger than ordinary breadcrumbs and are used to add additional texture. There really is no flavor difference, so feel free to substitute regular breadcrumbs if you prefer.

I’ve been reluctant to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a cooking oil ever since I read this blog by the fabulous Christina, from Whatever the Route, who says one of her professors told her EVOO transforms from a non-saturated fat to a saturated fat when it gets above a certain temperature. Not sure about the science on that, but until I can research it, I’ve been substituting sunflower oil.

Seafood Fridays – Crawfish Etouffee

Do you believe in love at first bite?

I can recall the exact moment when I fell in love with this dish. That’s because it was the same moment that I fell in love with the city and culture of New Orleans.

It was June, 1987. My girlfriend at the time and I had just made the long drive from Chicago to New Orleans for a week-long vacation. After getting settled in our hotel, we wandered the French Quarter for the first time.

I had never been to Europe (still haven’t, in fact), so the narrow, European-style streets filled with colorfully painted buildings with elaborate wrought-iron balconies billowing with the summer’s first flowers was like something out of a dream.

Hungry from our trip, we ended up at the Cafe Royale, where we were seated on the second-floor balcony overlooking the carnival-like atmosphere on Royale Street below us.

Even though I had never eaten crawfish before, I ordered the crawfish etouffee because it was the house specialty and because it just felt right. I was rewarded for my adventurousness with a bowl of one of the most amazing things I had ever eaten. Dark brown, slightly nutty and creamy, sweet deliciousness.

I distinctly remember taking my first bite of that wonderful stew, looking out over the Vieux Carre and thinking, “I love this. All of it.” It was one of those moments of perfect happiness that the late Spalding Gray used to talk about in his monologues.

This particular recipe doesn’t come close to approximating that first intoxicating bowl of crawfish etouffee. In fact, I substituted shrimp because the only crawfish I could find were whole, pre-cooked ones and that wouldn’t work. Chopped small, the shrimp were a good substitute and the flavor of this etouffee was close enough to transport me back to that moment in time.

This recipe also features another New Orleans tradition, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, also known as simply “Tony’s”. In fact, I adapted this recipe from one on their website. I’ve mentioned Tony’s in the past because it is a good, versatile seasoning for everything from soups to meats to seafood or even barbeque.

Crawfish Etouffee

4 TBS Unsalted butter

1 lb Raw crawfish tails (or shrimp)

3 TBS Tony’s

1 White onion, medium dice

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

1 tsp Corn starch

1 cup Water

1 Green Onion, sliced

Brown rice, cooked

1. Melt butter in sauce pan. Meanwhile, toss the crawfish with the Tony’s then saute in the butter for 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. In the same pot, add the onions, peppers and garlic and saute 10 minutes. Return the crawfish to the pot.

3. Dissolve the corn starch into the water then pour into the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmmer, then cook gently for 20 minutes. Season with black pepper — you won’t need any more salt due to Tony’s being pretty salty — and serve over brown rice, garnished with scallions.

I served my etouffee with jalapeno cornbread, changing the recipe slightly by substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. It had very little impact on the flavor but added more nutritional value.

Has a dish you’ve eaten ever made you fall in love with a particular city? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Seafood Friday – Shrimp

You are more likely to find shrimp on any restaurant’s menu than any other kind of seafood.

That’s probably because shrimp is relatively inexpensive, can be found just about anywhere there is salt water, and has a delicious, sweet flavor that can be paired with just about anything.

Five things you might not know about shrimp:

1. Shrimp and prawns are the same thing. In India, the world’s largest shrimp-farming nation, all shrimplike animals are called prawns. However, in the US and UK, the term “prawn” generally is reserved for large shrimps.

2. Above a certain size, you need to remove the shrimp’s digestive tract prior to cooking it. This is known as deveining the shrimp. After peeling away the shrimp’s shell, simply make a shallow incision down the shrimp’s back and use the blade of the knife to remove the vein. In some cases the vein is easy to see because it is full of partially digested shrimp food, in others it’s nearly transparent. Then rinse the shrimp under cold water for a moment. Or you can buy deveined shrimp for a few cents more per pound.

3. Some shrimp have hard shells like lobsters. Rock shrimp, which are found off the Atlantic coast from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Bahamas, used to be discarded by fishermen because its shell was too hard to remove. But around 1970 a machine was invented that easily shells rock shrimp and since then its lobster-like meat has become a popular part of many menus.

4. Unless you live right on the water, most shrimp you buy will be frozen or has been frozen at some point during its journey to market. That’s because shrimp is highly perishable. Many commercial shrimpers process and freeze the shrimp right there on the boat to immediately halt decay in quality.

5. Sea monkeys, the popular “family of pets” that were promoted in advertisements in the back of comic books in the 1970s actually were freeze-dried brine shrimp. When you placed them in water, they ended their suspended animation and came to life. They didn’t really look like people, though.

This reduced-fat recipe for white shrimp with oricchiette pasta with a tomato cream sauce is fast, easy and delicious. Oricchiette is Italian for “little pigs’ ears” and refers to the shape of the pasta. If you can’t find it at your market, you can substitute any pasta you prefer.

White Shrimp with Oricchiette Pasta in a Tomato Cream Sauce

1/2 lb White shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

3 TBS Extra virgin olive oil, separated, with a little more for the pasta

1/2 White onion, small dice

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

6 oz Can of tomato sauce

1 tsp Dried basil (or fresh)

1 tsp Dried oregano (or fresh)

1/3 cup Fat-free half and half

1/4 cup Grated parmesan cheese, plus a little more for garnish

1 lb Oricchiette pasta

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup Parsley, chopped fine

1. Combine shrimp, garlic and TBS of EVOO in a small bowl, coating all shrimp in oil and evenly distributing garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions, usually about 9-10 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse. Return to pot. Drizzle in a little EVOO, add a little salt and pepper and toss. Set aside

3. Put a sauce pot over a medium heat. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onion translucent, about five minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, basil and oregano. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about five minutes so the flavors can meld together. Then whisk in the fat-free half and half and season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the parmesan cheese.

4. Put a non-stick sautee pan over a medium heat. When hot, add just a drop of EVOO. When smoking add shrimp and all of the marinade. Saute until shrimp are cooked through, about three to four minutes.

5. To assemble, pile pasta in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a kitchen spoon or a tablespoon to ladle a little sauce over the top, then use a tongs to carefully arrange shrimp evenly around the sides of the pasta, leaving spaces between each shrimp. Garnish with parsley and additional parmesan.