Great seafood dishes don’t have to be cooked in a restaurant

It’s a pretty constant refrain from those who study our diet: Eat more seafood, it’s good for you.

And for those who observe Lent, this is the time when meals based on seafood are de rigueur.

Seafood is a favorite restaurant dish, but not that many of us cook seafood at home.

Vicky Murphy of Inland Seafood says the industry has found that almost three-fourths of all seafood is eaten outside the home. “People shy away from cooking seafood at home because they overthink it,” she says.

“They’re concerned about choosing seafood, and because they’re used to cooking beef, pork and poultry, they overcook what they bring home. Seafood actually takes a fraction of the cooking time of those meats and can be easily cooked at home.”

Murphy has been creating and demonstrating seafood recipes for many years. One of her favorite “recipes” for the novice seafood cook who wants an impressive dinner party entree is to start with a side of salmon placed skin side down on large piece of foil on a baking sheet.

“Season the salmon by dotting it with pats of butter and thin slices of lemon or lime. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and slide the baking sheet into a cold oven and set the temperature for 400 degrees. After 18 minutes, take the salmon out of the oven and let it sit just a minute before serving. You can dress it up by adding matchsticks of sweet red or yellow peppers or green onions before baking.”

With five minutes of preparation and 18 minutes of cooking, your impressive seafood main course is done.

Craig Richards, executive chef at St. Cecilia, serves what he calls European coastal-inspired seafood dishes every day of the week. He says the home cook’s reluctance to cook seafood is understandable given how expensive fresh seafood can be. And he agrees with Murphy that choosing good quality seafood can be intimidating.

“Look for the seafood that is the brightest and freshest in the case. What I do when I walk up to the fish counter is buy whatever jumps out at me as looking the best and then I build a meal around that,” he says.

Murphy and Richards offer tips to help the home cook make the best of fresh seafood.

Seafood comes in a variety of price ranges: Murphy notes that salmon, catfish, tilapia, perch, rockfish, clams, cod and mussels generally sell for under $10 a pound.Mahi mahi, amberjack, redfish, Arctic char, steelhead trout, haddock and monkfish can generally be found for under $15 a pound.

Consider the texture of the seafood: Richards says a meaty fish like tuna or swordfish can be prepared the same ways you might cook pork or beef. “You can serve with them a red wine sauce, or roasted root vegetables and grilled lettuce. Or pair them with bacon or sausage. Lighter seafood like flounder, snapper or scallops marry well with more acidic flavors. Pair them with citrus, capers, olives, maybe some tomatoes or white wine sauces.”

Stock the pantry: A few well-chosen ingredients make a real difference. Use good butter and olive oil, and have onions, garlic and fresh ginger and citrus (lemons, limes and oranges) on hand. Murphy suggests your pantry should hold almonds and capers, the linchpins of fish almandine or piccata, foolproof preparations as long as you don’t overcook the fish. And don’t forget fresh herbs like dill, parsley and tarragon.

Pair seafood with pasta: Richards says shellfish in particular cooks very quickly. He likes to pair shrimp or mussels with simple pastas like spaghetti or angel hair, then embellish with fresh herbs, lemon, garlic and olive oil. “That’s all you need right there. We go through almost two cases of lemons every day in the restaurant. I joke that our restaurant was built on lemons, olive oil and sea salt.”

Prepare a simple sauce: Murphy suggests that butter, Greek yogurt or a good store brand or homemade mayonnaise can form the base for simple sauces. Season with something from that well-stocked pantry and your sauce is done. Murphy likes the combination of Greek yogurt, chopped fresh dill and garlic with a little salt. Warmed in the microwave, it adds a Mediterranean flavor to a simple olive oil-sauteed piece of fish. Or she suggests pulling out a jar of your favorite salsa, adding some fresh lime juice, and serving it over baked fish.

Topper:

Chef Craig Richards of St. Cecilia offers three fish recipes easy enough for a Friday night family dinner but special enough for guests and your best china.

Seared Scallops with Celery Root-Mashed Potatoes

You can make this dish with your go-to recipe for mashed potatoes, but when serving succulent, sweet (and expensive) scallops, why not up your game? If you can find fresh horseradish root, substitute a 3-ounce piece, peeled and grated, for the prepared horseradish. Add the fresh grated horseradish to the potatoes and celery root as they’re cooking.

Richards likes a mix of potatoes in his mashed potatoes, but you can use whatever you have on hand. If you can find large Sicilian capers, packed in salt, use those in place of the small nonpareil capers packed in a jar with brine. Soak the Sicilian capers in water for about 20 minutes before using.

Sea scallops are the large members of the scallop family, reaching up to 2 inches in diameter. There could be between 10 and 40 scallops in a pound. Do not try this recipe with bay scallops, the smaller member of the family with between 70 and 120 scallops to the pound.

Murphy notes that only “dry” scallops will sear to a beautiful brown. “They’re referred to as ‘dry’ meaning they haven’t been soaked in sodium tripolyphosphates, known as STP in the seafood business. A large percentage of scallops are soaked and when cooked will only create bubbles and produce liquid rather than searing.” Check with your fishmonger to be sure you are getting the right scallops.

Some of your scallops may have a narrow ribbon of ligament attached. Remove it before cooking as it will become tough and ruin the texture of your beautiful seared scallops.

1 1/4 pounds mixed russet, Yukon Gold, and white-skinned potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes

1/2 pound celeriac (celery root), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups sour cream

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 1/2 pounds sea scallops

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup capers

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves

2 lemons, cut in half, cut surface charred

Parsley sprigs, for garnish

In a large saucepan, combine potatoes and celery root and add lightly salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

Use a potato ricer to mash cooked vegetables back into saucepan. Add sour cream, mustard, 2 tablespoons butter and horseradish. Adjust consistency by adding reserved cooking liquid if needed. Season to taste and keep warm while cooking scallops.

Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Saute half the scallops, turning once, until browned and just cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Use tongs to transfer scallops to a plate. Keep warm.

Wipe out skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil until hot but not smoking, and saute remaining scallops. Add them to the other scallops and keep warm.

Do not wipe out skillet. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and melt over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Add capers and cook until capers begin to crisp and butter turns brown and smells nutty. Remove from heat and squeeze in lemon juice. Stir in parsley, taste and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide mashed potatoes between warm serving plates, top with scallops and drizzle with caper-butter sauce. Serve with charred lemon to squeeze over scallops. Serves: 4

Per serving: 703 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 36 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 44 grams fat (23 grams saturated), 141 milligrams cholesterol, 698 milligrams sodium.

Crispy Flounder with Lentils and Blood Orange

This simple preparation for flounder would work equally well with sole. If you can find French lentils, try them in place of standard brown lentils. They may take just a little longer to cook.

Patting the fillets dry is critical to getting a crisp brown crust. Do not turn the fillets until they release easily from the skillet. Turn them too soon and the fillets will stick to the skillet and break.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green part only

2/3 cup finely chopped carrot

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 1/4 cups dried green lentils

3 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth, divided

4 (6- to 7-ounce) flounder fillets

Salt and pepper

2 blood oranges, cut in half and cut surface charred

Charred leeks and tarragon sprigs, for garnish

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil in over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add leeks, carrot and celery and saute until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add lentils and stir 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 cups stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until lentils are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. If liquid level gets too low and lentils are still not tender, add remaining stock in 1/4 cup increments until lentil are done. Taste for seasoning and keep warm.

In a large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat until it begins to smoke. Pat fillets dry, then carefully slip two fillets into skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Move to a plate and keep warm while sauteing the remaining fillets.

When ready to serve, divide lentils between warm serving plates and top with fillets. Serve with blood orange halves. Serves: 4

Per serving: 529 calories (percent of calories from fat, 24), 60 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 82 milligrams cholesterol, 204 milligrams sodium.

Mussel and Italian Sausage Stew

For this Portuguese-inspired recipe, use whatever potatoes you have on hand, and if you have a bottle of Chardonnay available, that would be the perfect white wine to flavor the stew. Richards prefers red onions in this recipe for the little bit of sweetness they add to the dish.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 4 cups)

2 red onions, cut into matchsticks

2 chopped garlic cloves

Salt

1/4 pound mild Italian sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

1 cup white wine

5 cups water

2 bunches kale, stems removed, leaves very thinly sliced (about 8 cups, loosely packed)

2 bay leaves

20 mussels, cleaned and beards, if any, removed

Juice of 1 lemon

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add potatoes, onions and garlic. Season with salt. Cook until onion starts to become translucent and garlic turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and cook over medium heat until sausage is thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and stir bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Continue cooking until the wine has reduced by half. Add water, kale and bay leaves. Reduce mixture to a simmer and cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add mussels, cover pan and simmer 5 minutes or until mussels open. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Add lemon juice and discard bay leaves. Divide mixture between warm bowls and serve immediately. Serves: 4

Per serving: 439 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 21 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 19 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 44 milligrams cholesterol, 505 milligrams sodium.

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