Friday, August 12, 2011

Whole Food Friday: Surf and Turf Nibbles

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

For this post, I felt a little like I was participating in a very weird episode of the television show Chopped, but in this version I had more ingredients to choose from, but didn't have to use all of them. You see, I got a sneak peak at a list of upcoming sale items at the local Whole Foods, and I thought it would be fun to incorporate as many of them as possible into the next two posts, while the sale is on.

I mean, I figured it would be most useful to more people who might grab sale items, bring them home, and then say, "What am I going to do with these now?" Because, really, it was a pretty mixed basket of goodies. Some of them are fine for stocking up on, like the bottled lemonade and mineral water, but that lovely salmon ... how could I resist? And the sirloin tip steak? That had possibilities.

And of course, just like Chopped, there are the "pantry and fridge items" AKA everything else at Whole Foods that might pair well.

For the main dishes for this post, the sale items included the wild coho salmon fillets, sirloin tip steak, French baguette, and Seaside cheddar. For a simple side, I purchased the (also on sale) smoked mozzarella pasta salad, which paired well with both the meat and fish.

The rest of my shopping cart included an interesting Palisade Peach Salsa from High Country Orchards that I found in the produce section, and Bite Back Tartar Sauce made by The Ojai Cook. The tartar sauce lists both jalapeno and horseradish on the label, but don't be afraid of it - it's not so strong that it will overpower the flavor of your fish. It's a nice accent.

And then there were a few other bits and pieces from the store. You'll see.

This is a great do-ahead recipe. While you could certainly serve this warm, it's also a perfect option for cooking ahead and just doing the assembly before serving. Both the beef and salmon are wonderful served and room temperature, and if your knife skill are a little less than stellar, they're both easier to slice thinly when they're chilled.

And here's another tip. Buy extra steak and/or salmon. Have it for dinner one night, reserving enough to make the surf and turf nibbles the next day. It's not leftovers if the plan was to make it a day ahead. Just make sure you buy enough so you don't eat it all.

Sirloin tip roast - not much fat.
Sirloin tip steak isn't the most tender cut of meat you'll find, which makes it a great candidate for marinating. Then, the goal is to cook it lightly - medium rare is good. Slicing it thinly also makes it seem more tender. What it lacks in tenderness, however, it makes up in flavor. By treating it right, you get both.

These would make great picnic food, appetizers for a party, or just a fun meal. Stack more or less meat on the baguette, depending on your intentions - and your preferences. As far as the baguette, I found one that was coated with mixed seeds, but a plain one would be just as good.

I'll start with the Turf, since it needs marinating time before cooking.

Turf Nibbles

1 sirloin tip steak
1/2 jar (approximate) Palisade Peach Salsa
2 tablespoons ketchup
Olive oil
Seaside cheddar

Put the salsa, ketchup, and steak into a zip-top bag and massage it to coat the steak with the marinade. Press out as much air as possible from the bag and seal Refrigerate at least several hours - but it's even better if it sits for a full day. Every time you open the fridge, turn the steak over so it marinates evenly.

Take the steak out of the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before you're ready to cook it. Heat the grill, and wipe the marinade off the steak and pat it dry. Coat it lightly with just a little bit of olive oil.

Cook the steak on the grill to no more than medium-rare - about 3 minutes on each side. If you're cutting the steak right away, let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Otherwise, wrap and refrigerate it and slice it when it is thoroughly chilled.

To serve, slice the baguette into thin slices on a diagonal. (You know why you do that, right? Biting into the crust, if it's cut square, can be tooth-breakingly difficult. Cutting it on the diagonal makes it easier to bite into, even with the most crisp-crusted breads.) You can butter and/or toast the baguette slices, if you prefer, or leave them as-is.

Cut the steak into thin strips and layer the strips on the baguette slices. Top with shaved cheddar - the easiest way to get thin shaved pieces is with a vegetable peeler. Top with a tiny dollop of pesto, either home made or store-bought. If you don't like pesto, another lovely option would be a thin slice of avocado or a tiny dollop of guacamole.

Surf Nibbles

Salmon fillet
Unsalted butter - about 1 tablespoon
French baguette
Bite Back Tartar Sauce

Instead of trying to cook a large fillet all at once, you're better off portioning it into serving-sized pieces (or ask for it portioned when you buy it). It's easier to turn the smaller pieces over, and if some pieces are cooking more quickly - like the thinner pieces closer to the tail - you can remove them when they're done so they don't overcook.

Salmon fillets also usually have pinbones in them. If you run your finger along the top of the fillet, you'll feel the hard bumps. I suggest removing those before you cook. I have a pair of small needlenose pliers that I reserve for kitchen use; you can also buy fish bone tweezers or use regular tweezers - but really, I suggest that whatever you decide to use, reserve that item for kitchen use only, and treat it just like any other kitchen gadget.

The fillets will probably have a meatier portion, and a thinner part that was near the belly of the fish. If you like, you can trim off that belly portion, since it will cook so much faster than the rest of the fillet. Next, if you were going to serve the fillets for dinner, I'd suggest removing the scales from the skin. Some people don't mind scales, some do. And some folks don't eat the skin at all. But if you're eating fish skin, you want it to be crisp. With this preparation, the skin will no doubt get a little soft and won't be that great for eating chilled, so we'll be removing it before slicing. Keep it on for cooking, though.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Let it brown just a little before adding the salmon, skin-side down. Cook on the skin side until the salmon is almost done - you don't want it to be completely opaque when it's done, but cook to your liking - then flip it over and cook on the second side, just to get a little brown and finish cooking. It only takes a few minutes, so don't get too far from the pan.

Cooking fish can be a little bit tricky. Cook it too fast, and you'll get that whiteness oozing out, which doesn't look appealing. Cook it too long, and it will be dry. But even though many raw and lightly-seared fish dishes have become very popular, there are a lot of people who are absolutely squeamish about any fish that isn't cooked all the way through, while others are ecstatic about rare or medium rare at the most.

My suggestion, unless you know your audience well, is to prepare the fish in a variety of donenesses. Leave some a little less done, and cook some of it all the way through.

Cooking it less done is easy, but for the fish that's all the way through, the trick is to pull it off when it's just barely done. No more dark color, but don't let it overcook until it's dry and pale.

The top piece at the right is fully cooked - there's no red left - but it's still soft and very moist. The piece at the bottom is much firmer. Still not a total loss since it's not quite dried out, but the one at the top is much better. And yes, I forgot to take the skin off that top piece before I took the photo.

When the fish is done to your liking, remove it from the pan and let it cool a bit before slicing, or wrap and refrigerate it, if you prefer to slice it when it's fully cooled (and it will be easier to slice).

Slice the baguette thinly on the diagonal (see the Turf recipe for the reason why). You can butter or toast the baguette slices, if you prefer, or leave them as-is.

Remove the skin - it will peel off easily. Slice the salmon thinly, and layer it on the baguette. Top with a tiny dollop of the tartar sauce, then garnish with chopped chives.

Serve the surf and turf baguettes with the pasta salad, then pass the beverage glasses for a refreshing cocktail (or virgin beverage, if you prefer.) Check the next post for today's beverage selection.