My husband is a big fan of the cable television show “The Deadliest Catch”. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it is a reality series about a fleet of crab fishermen plying their trade in the dangerous waters of the Bering sea.In our town it airs on a Tuesday evening. From what I can tell every episode follows a predictable course: the boats go out, the weather is bad, someone gets hurt or sick, the fishing is lousy and the captains get angry. Then, by the end of the hour, the pots are coming up full of crab, the exhausted fishermen are all smiles and the boats head back to port with their precious catch. There is no doubt it is a dangerous business and the fishermen are a pretty hardscrabble group. Each episode is full of drama about quotas and deadlines and peppered with plenty of colorful language.
Once, as we were watching them toss crab with bodies as large as manhole covers into the holds of the boat, Andy said,” Wouldn’t it be fun to eat crab legs while we watch the show?” Indeed! I love crab legs as much as the next person, maybe more, but they are a special occasion meal in my opinion. I wasn’t about to splurge on a crab dinner just to celebrate the fact that Captain Sig and the boys had survived another season of fishing. But a birthday just happened to fall on a Tuesday, and an anniversary, and the local supermarket had crab on special, so there were several crab leg meals consumed due to the inspiration of “Deadliest”. And it started a habit: I was looking forward to Tuesdays so I could cook fish. I began to review recipes and look to my favorite websites and blogs for inspiration. So Tuesday dinners have included salmon, halibut, cod, shrimp, scallops, snapper, clams, mussels, and tuna. In the midst of the unrelenting heat of the past month a summer favorite has become a “fish on Tuesday” favorite as well.
Salade Nicoise is a classic French main course salad. It is perfect for high summer enjoyment: light, colorful and chock full of the seasonal vegetables so abundant at the farmers’ markets now. I make my Nicoise the traditional way, with canned tuna. But not just any canned tuna. The best preserved tuna is usually from Spain and is always packed in olive oil. I look for the phrase “line-caught” on the tin. The ultimate preserved tuna product is ventresca. This is belly tuna, familiar to sushi afficionados as toro. It tastes like tuna-flavored butter. You only need a few ounces of ventresca to make this salad very special. Here are some guidelines for preparing a Salade Nicoise. It’s not really a recipe because you can be somewhat improvisational here: use what is fresh, seasonal, and readily available and the result will be beautiful and delicious. Just adjust the quantities for the number of people you wish to feed.
What you will need:
a quantity of basic vinaigrette dressing
potatoes (red, Yukon gold, and fingerling are good choices)
nicoise olives, or any other black olive
preserved tuna (see note)
fresh herbs such as flat leaf parsley, basil, tarragon , chervil
soft lettuce leaves such as Boston, Bibb, or leaf lettuce.
What to do:
Make the vinaigrette. For a group of about 4 people you will need approximately 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of white wine or champagne vinegar, 4 to 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon or so of finely minced shallot, 1 to 2 teaspoons of dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Put the vinegar, salt , shallot, and mustard in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Slowly stream in the oil until the mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust for salt and acidity. I like my dressing a little sharp and mustardy in order to season the potatoes. Any leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Cook the potatoes with the skins on in a large quantity of salted water. When they are just tender, drain them and as soon as you are able to handle them, remove the peel. Cut them into bite-sized chunks and place in a bowl. Spoon some of your vinaigrette over the potatoes while they are warm. When they cool, add more dressing as required and the fresh herb(s) of your choice. Season with salt and pepper as required. In the meantime blanch the green beans in a large quantity of boiling salted water until they are crisp tender. Plunge them into a bowl of ice water and when cooled remove and pat them dry. This, along with boiling the eggs, is the sum total of cooking required for this meal. The rest is simply the artful arrangement of all your beautiful ingredients on the serving platter. Take the lettuce and coat it sparingly with some vinaigrette. Use this to line a shallow bowl or platter. Similarly dress the cooled green beans with a modest amount of dressing. Now arrange the potatoes, green beans, quartered tomatoes, and halved hard-cooked eggs in any pattern that pleases you atop the lettuce bed. I like to place the tuna in the center of the dish, but you could arrange this in the manner of Cobb salad with each component in a strip atop the lettuce; an attractive look for a square or rectangular platter. Scatter the olives over the top, along with anchovies if you have chosen to include them. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the tomato quarters and the tuna and sprinkle on any of your fresh herbs. “Et voila”, a summer dinner to be enjoyed out on the deck or patio or in front of the television on a Tuesday night.
Note: I would be remiss by not mentioning the health concerns surrounding tuna. The FDA recommends no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and small children. There is also the sustainability concern over the fishing of tuna. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a seafood watch on their website which recommends the best choices of sustainable seafood. They have included down-loadable pocket guides and apps for smart phones that will help you make a good choice when you find yourself standing at the seafood counter of your local supermarket. If you enjoy a good “fish story” the following are two titles I would highly recommend.
“Four Fish, The Future of the Last Wild Food” by Paul Greenberg
“Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Mark Kerlansky