For Boxing Day I had a few friends over for dinner. I made a bouillabaisse, which is a Mediterranean seafood dish wherein you cut up all manner of seafood and toss it in a fish broth, except mussels so say the purists. Shrimp of course and crab or lobster if you can get it. Snapper, squid, cod. I made a slight Adk variant by including some trout. It's a slightly spicy dish as it contains some red pepper and one of the key elements is seasoning it with saffron along with chopped tomatoes. It is served with garlic bread, purists put garlic croutons or bread in the bowl and pour the soup over it. I put rice in the bowl and serve the garlic toast on the side. Some people add potatoes, which is more common than using rice.
One of the nice things about bouillabaisse is that you can and should make the stock a head of time (it features chopped celery, onions, garlic and fennel cooked in olive oil), before the guests arrive cut up the fish and set it aside while the stock simmers away. Thus you have plenty of time to chat with the guests. Just ten minutes for seating people put the cut of fish in the pot and serve soon as it is ready serve. Thrown in some chopped parsley before serving.
The thing to remember about bouillabaisse is that it was made by fishermen who used what was left over from the day's harvest thus no two dishes were exactly the same. That translates into don't sweat about it if you don't have the exact ingredients be it throwing in some salmon or trout or, horrors, mussels, or in my case, rice. I like rice. I slightly undercook it and let the hot soup finish it off so to speak.
This particular meal was finished off with a plum pudding with a hard sauce over which was poured flaming Meyers Dark rum, this concocted by Ann Cosgrove of Montreal. Not a traditional dessert for bouillabaisse, but very much so for the English and Canadians at Christmas. It was a wow. Also on the wow scale was the appetizers made by Martha Lee Owen and the salad made by Elena Borstein of E-Town, the dressing was over the top.
If any of you listened to the Fresh Air segment on olive oil about a week ago you learned that the title Extra Virgin really doesn't mean a whole lot when it comes to olive oil as the standards in the US are so lax. I suggest two things, listen to the segment and then do a Google search on which Extra Virgins are in fact pure and well made, products that you can find at the local markets. The other half was the balsamic vinegar she used, which in this case was not available locally. The reality is that not all balsamic vinegars are alike either by a long shot again because of lax US standards. My internet search comes up with a highly respected store brand being Lucini Gran Riserva Balsamico. Elena, by the way, loves the olive oil sold locally by Dmitry Feld.
All this thinking about food over the holidays makes me think back to when I worked at the Mirror Lake Inn back during my college days. I worked at the Inn practically since I could walk taking on all manner of age-appropriate jobs, meaning work assigned to me by my grandmother that today would violate all manner of child labor laws. By the time I had gotten to college I had worked at nearly every task in the kitchen, and made it behind the range as the breakfast (short order) chef and also worked on prep for the dinner, which I helped serve.
Fred Richards, who had been the chef for most of my youth, had left to start his own venture in Wilmington and a new chef had been recently installed (soon to be replaced by Herb Rock). I was a student at the art college Pratt Institute and about a week before Christmas break a tiny sliver of metal from an engraving plate got into my eye and had to be removed at the Brooklyn Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. So when I arrived for my first day at work I looked a bit like a pirate with a patch over my eye.
The chef was a little taken aback but we got through serving the evening meal. The next morning I learned of an unexpected consequence of having just one working eye and that was how it affected my depth perception, aka ability to flip eggs (think omelets, over easy eggs). Back then, breakfast at the Inn meant cooking a couple hundred eggs in a very short while as the guests wanted to get out on the slopes, rink or lake as soon as possible.
We cooked eggs in pans not on the grill, which was reserved for the famed Adirondack flapjacks. I'd have eight to a dozen pans all going at once, and prided myself on my ability to flip eggs in a pan without breaking the yolk (you lower the pan as the eggs come down so they land very softly). With only one eye working I found it very hard to get both eggs to land in the pan. I learned after more failures than I desire to mention, that I had to aim at getting the egg on the right side of the pair to land on the left side of the pan. All I can say was that I was very relieved that first day when Herb came in and I was able to get him to help me catch up and stay even with the orders as they came in.
Well, I could go on and on about what a crazy Christmas that was (tons of snow), but I have not the space. Another time. But I do hope that you had too a wonderful Holiday filled with friends, family, fine food and fun memories as well. 'Til next year.