Love at First Sight
I picked up Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season on a whim at the library recently. It looked like my kind of book. Along with Dorie Greenspan and Georgeanne Brennan, Patricia Wells is one of my favorite modern French cookbook authors. I either own, or habitually borrow from the library my favorite books of theirs over and over and re-read them like I re-read my favorite novels; every few years or so I have to revisit them for renewed inspiration.
So I brought it home and began to browse through it after the kids were in bed. Within a few minutes I had to set the book down and rummage through the junk drawer. I was in search of my stash of mini post-it notes (one of my favorite things!) and began to note the recipes that looked delicious. By the end of the book, I’d run out.
There were just too many recipes I had to try.
Along with the salad recipes she includes recipes for appetizers and sides, soups, breads, 14 dressings (can you say “Lime & Vanilla Dressing?” Doesn’t that sound remarkable?) and pantry items as varied as lemon zest sea salt (featured in the dressing, below), homemade curry powder, quick lemon confit and brine-cured black olives. I’m sure that Ms.Wells’ kitchen cupboards and refrigerator are packed full, as are mine, with little jars of hand-crafted yumminess; we’d get along splendidly!
Would I recommend Salad as a Meal?
Wholeheartedly. I love it’s range from salads with eggs to fish to oxtails and recipes for every season, her wine suggestions and the introductions she makes to each recipe.
A tip I particularly enjoyed from her introduction notes that,
“if one is enjoying a wine with the salad as a meal, the less vinegar in the dressing the better, since vinegar can kill the flavor of even the most modest of wines. Rather, go for a light salad dressing with a lemon, buttermilk, yogurt, or light cream base.”
The cookbook is organized well and features beautiful, crisp photography. In fact, I’ll be very sad the day I have to return it to the library, removing all my little sticky-notes from recipes I want to try after renewing it as many times as they will let me. . . it is certainly one I will consider adding to my permanent library.
There once was a girl who wore XtraTuf’s . . . and a recipe
There’s a funny story related to the recipe I chose to feature from Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season . . . starting my senior year of high school and through college, during the summers I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
I did not work in an office, I was out in the field, as a Fish Tech II.
I worked out of a little mobile trailer on a beach that saw a lot of traffic with commercial fishing charters going in and out for King Salmon and halibut trips, along with people clamming for Razor Clams. I wore XtraTuf boots with a fillet knife on my belt every day, chest waders and a rain coat most days, and rode four wheelers from boat to boat, climbing into their holds to check their catch upon their return.
We were studying King Salmon, but I often had to grab, with both hands, around the tails of the sixty to eighty pound halibuts they’d also caught that day, and sluice the halibut down to the end of the hold to get an accurate count of the salmon caught earlier and trapped underneath, before the weight of the halibut and the slime of the fish shot it back my direction.
We knew the charter captains and their crews, saw them go through two loads of clients most days, and, though they pretended to be gruff, most of them were teddy bears underneath their grizzly exteriors.
A few times a season, after a particularly good catch, they’d knock on the door to our trailer and hand over a gallon sized bag or two of halibut cheeks and fillets from that day’s catch. The choice cuts? Always the cheeks.
We’d cook them simply for our lunch, dredging them in cornmeal and frying them up on the two-burner stove in the old travel trailer. Eaten piping hot, sweet and buttery soft, with one’s fingers off of a paper plate? Unbeatable.
And when I saw that Patricia had included a mouthwatering recipe for halibut cheeks (gluten-free, at that!), though there are others that I’ve bookmarked for future meals (like the Salmon and Avocado Tartare with Cucumber Ribbons, Warm Asian Shrimp Salad with Kaffir Lime Dust, Walter’s Lime and Lemon grass Cured Beef Salad or the Winter Oxtail Salad with Cornichons and Capers, to name but a few) I knew that this was the one I had to share. I hope you make it, and then seek out her gorgeous book to try the rest!
Halibut Cheeks with Polenta and Parmesan Crust and Asian Greens
Fish cheeks are extremely tender, tasty morsels. They are light and have a fine, firm texture. In fact, many people consider the cheeks the best part of the fish, due to their concentrated sweetness.The flavor is delicate, and so a minimum of embellishment is called for here. If fish cheeks are not available, the same method can be used with any freshfillets cut into 3-inch squares or with fresh scallops. In our house in Provence, this is a regular after-the-Tuesday-market salad. I like to serve the fish on a bed of Asian greens from our garden, a flavorful, tender mix of tatsoi, mizuna, and red mustard greens.
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup quick-cooking polenta
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon ground piment d’Espelette or other ground mild chile pepper
- 4 cups mixed salad greens, such as tatsoi, red mustard, and mizuna
- Fleur de Sel
- 8 fish cheeks (preferably halibut, about 1 pound total)
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fresh lemon wedges, for garnish
- Lemon and Olive Oil dressing (see below recipe for ingredients and details)
Break the eggs into a sieve set over a shallow bowl. Press the eggs through the sieve. (This will help make an even-textured coating.) Combine the polenta and cheese in another shallow bowl. Season the polenta mixture with the piment d’Espelette.
Place the salad greens in a large bowl. Dress with just enough dressing to lightly and evenly coat the greens. Taste for seasoning.
Dip the fish cheeks in the egg, and then dredge themin the polenta mixture. Place them on a large plate.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat.When the oilishot but not smoking, add the coated fish cheeks and cook until they are golden and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Season with fleur de sel.
Mound the salad on dinner plates. Arrange 2 fish cheeks on top of each salad. Serve immediately, with the lemon wedges for garnish.
WINE SUGGESTION : A white Cotes-du-Rhone
Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing
- 1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest Salt or fine sea salt to taste (Mix 1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest to 1 Tablespoon fine sea salt to make Lemon Zest Salt)
- 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small jar with a lid, combine the salt and lemon juice. Cover the lid and shake to blend. Add the oil and shake once more. Taste for seasoning. The dressing can be used immediately. (Store the dressing the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Shake to blend again before using.)