Disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be an extravagant spender; nor do I consider myself one who lives “high on the hog” as it were. I am a normal guy making a decent salary at a typical job. I have my share of debts, and I have adjusted my spending habits to compensate for this, as well as the general state of the world Economy. Thus, I consider myself a careful spender who plans things in advance. As you read the proceeding blog, please try to limit your knee jerk reaction, which will be to say “gosh, must be nice to live your gourmet lifestyle!” This type of response is often borne out of jealousy, or spite. Having said that, I present my weekend culinary exploration of seafood.
It’s Friday and I am in Winter Park. My wife has been wanting fresh fish, which is nearly impossible to find in Central Florida (believe it or not). So I decided to seek out the area’s only fresh fish market. In the fish market, three things stood out to me as fresh. First, the wild, line caught grouper. Yes, I know that grouper is an endangered, overfished luxury item these days. But this one was $13.48/lb., which is about $6/lb. cheaper than the local Publix offering of “Farmed Grouper”. So I got the smallest whole fillet they had, which came to roughly a pound. The next thing that caught my eye was what they termed “head on shrimp.” Actually, what they were offering was Langostinos, Spanish for “little lobsters.” I got 2 of them, which were roughly $1.15 each. These were the real deal…and I am sorry I don’t have a pic of them. But picture this…a 8″ long shrimp with strikingly blue limbs. Now picture two 10″ claws, also in deep blue. As Worf would say, “What handsome creatures!” Next up…the standard fare…wild gulf shrimp. Got a pound of those…$6.98 a pound. Oh, I also got two U-10 Scallops.
One the way home, I stopped by the Asian Market and checked out their offerings. 3/$1 Haas Avocados, heirloom tomatoes, fresh culantro, fresh cilantro, organic greens, organic red and yellow beets, and some fresh hard cheese were among the things added to my shopping basket.
We decided to use the two langostinos for an “appetizer.” My wife considers herself to be “tropical,” which means she grew up in a tropical area of Ecuador, where seafood was plentiful and cheap. In a matter of minutes, she sliced the langostinos lengthwise and had them sauteing in a pan that consisted of butter, olive oil, garlic and shallots. Whole they transformed from deep blue to flamingo pink, she made some fresh “salsa” for the top of them. She also made a quick salad of fresh red cabbage with a citrus vinaigrette and finished it with a slice of Florida Avocado. What was particularly nice about these langostinos was the succulent, sweet flesh. The fatty deposits near the head were particularly good…and this is something that most people would immediately discard. I am glad my wife coaxed me to try this particular part of the langostino. To accompany this fine appetizer, we had a glass of the 2007 Dr. Frank Riesling.
Next…the Grouper. My wife wanted to continue the cooking, so I helped her as a sous chef. She decided to make the grouper, pan seared and rubebd down with a spice blend we picked up in Sarasota. To accompany…a fresh greek beet salad, with yellow and red beets, fresh salad greens from the market, and the market cheese I got, topped with the same vinegarette she used with the cabbage salad. Holy molywas this good! The fish had a nice seared spice rub on it and the fish inside was fresh and moist. The beet salad was out of the park…the fresh beets had a wonderful Earthy flavor and the hard cheese paired well with that taste. Some more of the Dr. Frank wine made another great pairing. The only problem with this dish is that it was too much food! I was stuffed…to the gills with this fresh seafood. And in the end…this whole thing cost us around $45; less than we would have spent in a restaurant, but well worth it. I even had enough fish left over for fish sandwiches the next day, which further defrayed the cost.
The next day, we had the shrimp, and I did not get any pics of that. For an appetizer, I pan seared the two colossal scallops…and deglazed the pan with a touch more of the Dr. Frank white wine. Wowie Zowie..they were perfect.Next up, we decided to just make some shrimp scampi with the fresh Gulf shrimp…and it was fantastic.
Sunday…after church, the teen beast was not talking, so we decided to make another jaunt over to the seafood shack…and picked up some more of those beautiful langostinos, as well as a 1 lb. chunk of fresh cod. Total cost, $13.35. We headed back, and stopped by Publix on the way to get some plantains, tomatoes and garlic…as well as a frozen pizza for the teen, as she does not like food “this week.”
Margarita said she was going to make an Euadorian specialty with the cod, called Sango de Pescado en Papilote. Basically, sango is a paste made from finely grated green plantains and mixed with a rich, buttery sofrito. Sofrito is a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, culantro, cilantro, black pepper, achiote, and peppers. The mixture is sauteed in butter or olive oil until tender. The sofrito is then mixed with the grated plantains, and cooked over moderately high heat, adding bits of water as you would a risotto. Soon, the sango is transformed into a deep, rich roux-like substance that is both starchy and flavourful. She also added three spoons of peanut butter to the mix.
As this sango was cooking, she was pan searing the fish at a high temperature in a touch of olive oil, to get a nice sear on the fish. After a minute, she took the fish out. She put the sango on a piece of parchment paper and placed that into a baking dish. She put the seared cod on top of the sango paste…and then proceeded to seal up the parchment paper. She later wrapped the parchment in aluminum foil and put it in the oven at 425F.
The end result? Perfectly steamed fish atop a bed of savory plantain and sofrito mash…a marriage of unexpected flavors. The added touch…the earthiness of the peanut butter she added at the end. That really elevated this dish. The cod was flaky and moist, with a nice aroma of garlic. This was like concentrated heaven on a plate!
Unfortunately, with all the other happenings of the weekend, of which I have only scratched the surface, the time we spent preparing these succulent seafood dishes was relatively hard to carve out…but it was time well spent. Our teen covered her nose and faked like she was nauseous and sickened by the divine smell of cooking seafood, and she madeseveral drama production shows about her dislike of our pleasure. It is really sad to see someone so miserable, so reluctant to try anything outside the norm of fast food pizza, burgers and pastas…we both pity her deeply, and we wonder if she will ever reach a point where she reminisces about the masterful culinary preparations she used to witness in our tiny kitchen. Sadly, I think she will grow up ignorant of the beauty of nature, the tastes and smells of the sea, and the Divine that is in everything around her. At 15, her heart is already hard and bitter, perhaps to the point of no return. All I know is that we really enjoyed our seafood in the little amount of time we carved out for ourselves. Selfishness and parental hatred aside, her attempts to make us miserable only made her look foolish and weak, and made us even more grateful for what we have.
Postclaimer: Go ahead. Insult me, call me extravagant, call me a pig, a greedy sloth, and a killer of Nemo and Mr. Shrimp. Say that I don’t support sustainable seafood harvesting, etc. Whatever. Say your piece, and maybe you will find your peace. Just remember to think about me when you are out buying that next Unnecessary Thing for yourself.