Foodie Tuesday: You *Can* Tuna Fish

As the old joke goes, “you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish!” But not only is it silly as humor goes, it’s wrong, in my estimation. Tuna, whether raw or cooked or tinned, is a mild-flavored fish, and as such can be harmonious with a wide range of ingredients and preparations and dishes. As with most fish, the freshness and quality of the tuna are the determining characteristics in the success of any preparation you choose. I’ve eaten tuna that was mediocre, and tuna that was spectacularly delicious, and plenty that fell at some mark in between, happily toward the better end of the spectrum for the most part.

Given the price of genuine Tsukiji-grade sashimi tuna, I leave the handling and preparation of it to sushi masters who feed me. I’m not even confident enough in my skills to make a reliable seared tuna loin, my favorite way to eat fresh or flash-frozen tuna, so that’s left to expert chefs as well. I hope to change that eventually, but in the meantime, it leaves me dependent on the kind that ends its swimming with a ride in a can to my pantry. And that is not a bad thing. Once I discovered that tuna can be cooked in a tin with nothing more than itself, or perhaps a touch of salt, I turned my back on all of the iffy tinned stuff packed in water, oil, or any other adulterating liquid that affects its texture, flavor, and flexibility as an ingredient in any recipe. There are a handful of companies I’ve found that offer really lovely preserved tuna fillets in cans, fish so unmolested that it tastes delicious straight out of the tins. It’s worlds better for tuna salad, and that’s handy since old-fashioned tuna salad is a lifelong favorite of both my partner’s and mine, whether on a sandwich or on crackers, salad greens, or rice.

It’s grand in other all-American basic recipes like tuna noodle casseroles or tuna melts. And because its texture remains flaky and dense rather than the unpleasantly mushy stuff that comes out of the average tuna tin, this sort of tuna makes a wonderful ingredient for a wider variety of edible goodies than anyone averse to the old-school, mass-produced kind of tinned tuna would ever guess.Photo: Michelle Tam's Nom Nom Paleo Spicy Tuna Cakes

We took inspiration from the marvelous Michelle Tam at Nom Nom Paleo last week and used her recipe—mostly unaltered, much to the amazement of my spouse, who’s so accustomed to my habitual recipe fiddling—for Spicy Tuna Cakes, and the tuna I used was perfect for them. For the first meal of these, I topped mine with melted cheddar and made side dishes of sautéed green beans and mushrooms with bacon crumbles, and a Waldorf sort of salad of apples and celery with a light lemony mayonnaise dressing that had hearty helpings of both pickled and candied ginger to jazz it up. [Please excuse the after-dark quickie photo.] Maybe this week I’ll go pan-Asian and start dinner with hot and sour soup and then serve the tuna cakes with Thai peanut sauce.

One of the particular benefits of this tuna cake recipe is that it’s not only easy to fix but also makes enough for several meals for the two of us, so I’ll likely make up a double batch (two muffin tins’ worth) and freeze even more of them next time. In addition, it’s one that I can tell will easily adapt to a number of kindly variations—look out, Mr. Sparkly!—and I’m sure I’ll try some of those as well, over time.

Seeking Sabbatical

Everybody needs a break. Not everyone gets one or is in the position to take advantage of it, but when the opportune moment arises, it’s a gift that should be savored. After all, it gives us far more energy for going forward with style.Digital illustration from photos + text: Recess

Foodie Tuesday: Must be the Mermaid in Me

 

photoWhen I was growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of what a treat it was to eat fish. Mom prepared it beautifully, and it was special that most of our trout and salmon dinners were thanks to her father’s fishing skill and generosity, but the very fact that we got it for free must have seemed to my childish way of thinking simply an indicator that some money was being saved in the household grocery budget, surely a good thing but not a culinary indicator of quality per se. It didn’t take me awfully long, however, to realize that fish, especially salmon, was actually extremely tasty, versatile as an ingredient, and so enjoyable that its flavor significantly outweighed its (still unknown to me) mighty nutritional profile in making me seek it out for dinner, lunch, breakfast, snacks and more. Before I was in school I was a confirmed fan of salmon, that beautiful blushing fish, and had discovered a little something of how bountiful and lovely in general the larder of the sea really was.photoNowadays, I happily eat vast quantities of many kinds of seafood whenever I can lay hands and teeth on a fresh supply. Grilled salmon with (of course!) lashings of rich Hollandaise, salmon burgers, smoked salmon and cream cheese on thinly sliced pumpernickel, kulebiaka, hearty yet delicate salmon bouillabaisse, salmon and avocado salad: heaven. Crab quiche, grilled Tillamook cheddar sandwiches crammed with Dungeness crab, crab Louis, crab tacos, crab fried rice, fried soft-shell crabs? Divine. I moved up; I moved on. I never moved away again from loving rivers full, lakes full, an ocean-full, of good food. Calamari and 42nd Street Cafe’s clam chowder and chilled giant prawns with simple horseradish sauce (or just a squeeze of lemon). Slabs of roasted halibut, exquisitely artful sushi, sole Amandine, trout in browned butter, seared rare tuna, shrimp Toast Skagen, simple yet elegant sushi, and lobster bisque with cream and cognac.photoYou may think there’s something fishy about my obsession with all of this, but the truth is I just love good seafood. It doesn’t take a whale of an imagination to understand why.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Sweets from the Sweet

photoI knew we’d hit the neighbor jackpot yet again. We have a history chock-full of fine neighbors between us, my husband and I, of that sort who are not only great to chat with at the mailbox but offer help and led tools when they see projects underway, share their mystical gardening secrets, and advise on who’s the best resource for automotive care, where there’s still an independent pharmacy in town, or what the local ordinances are on right-of-way maintenance.

But we all know that the best neighbors of all have not only generosity in their hearts but also food in their hands when they show up at the door. Rhonda was known to trade her fresh-picked raspberries for our over-abundant plums. David–actually the manager at our then apartments–went door to door delivering home-grown green beans, tomatoes and zucchini that he and his wife grew in the ‘bonus’ plot on the complex’s property. Peter rang the doorbell at our place in Tyee bearing bending boards of fantastic barbecued meats and salmon and vegetables.

Add to this that we had not only other great neighbors but also heroic postal carriers, pest treatment and HVAC specialists, and remodeling contractors who have become admired friends, and you know that our standard for being spoiled is very high.

So when we moved to our current home, perhaps it was only par for the course that our new next door neighbors would arrive with welcoming smiles–and food. But what food! We didn’t have to lift a finger for anything other than unpacking and furniture-dragging for at least three days after arriving in this house because we were handed an enormous platter laden with an assortment of deliciously varied homemade salads, another piled with home-baked breads and rolls and biscuits, a plate of tender, moist cream cake, and a gallon pitcher of sweet tea. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it would surely have to have been at first bite.

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I'm a lucky chick, having such sweet neighbors!

The flow of gustatory glories has continued unabated (and ably washed down with Mr. Neighbor’s lovely wine-selecting and punch-making skills as well as his fine Scotch collection) from that day forward. You will have no trouble believing and understanding when I say that we are devastated that these neighbors have retired and have the temerity to plan to move back to home territory in another state. Who will phone us in Canada when our sprinkler system fails during a hot spell, to tell us that they’ve already hired the company that installed it to do repairs before we come home? Who will deliver our entire stash of newspapers they collected over our out-of-town trip, updating us on the rest of the neighborhood or sharing delightful stories of their own adventures? And who will show up at random, numerous and very welcome times bearing, say, cake or cookies or pie, or a handmade bread cornucopia with a massive vegetable-and-floral display in it at Thanksgiving, a gorgeously crafted Bûche de Noël at Christmas, a sprightly spring assortment of cookies and cupcakes and jellies at Eastertime?photo

The answer, as you well know, is that it is our turn to become those neighbors, to show up unannounced with that very special something-extra whenever we can, to lend tools and perhaps the hand to use them, and to spread the joy of hospitality whenever and wherever we can. The torch–or the torchon de cuisine–has been passed. I hope I’m up to the task!photoI’ll probably start with something supremely simple like the nut-and-seed crackers that have no real recipe and change every time I make them. They make a handy vehicle for dips, salsas and salads when I want a quick bite of lunch or a not too terribly naughty snack. This time they were thus:

Nut and Seed Crackers (and Tuna Salad)

8 cups of finely chopped mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) tossed together with about a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese plus coarsely ground salt and black pepper and good chile powder to taste, all mixed with just enough water to clump together into ‘dough’ and rolled or patted onto a non-stick cookie sheet (I use a silicone lining sheet in the pan so I can be extra lazy on the cleanup), and then baked at 325-350 degrees F (depending on your oven) until golden brown. I let these ones cool in one big slab and then just broke them into uneven pieces about the size for carrying, say, some bacon and cheddar cheese dip or guacamole or seasoned labne or some tuna salad. Tuna Salad, around here, is nothing more than a good quality tinned tuna (one of the brands that cooks its filet directly in the can and adds nothing other than a little salt; I like High Seas and Tuna Guys and can order it online from both, but there are other excellent sustainable-fisheries purveyors as well) seasoned with ground pepper, dried or fresh dill, smoked paprika, yellow ‘ballpark’ style mustard and sometimes chopped capers, and bound with good mayonnaise until slightly creamier than just glued together (spreads better that way).

This combination may not exactly constitute sweets for neighborly delivery, but then we know that the sweetness derives just as much from not needing to fix any food oneself, if only for a brief moment. Or for days on end, if you happen to get one of our neighbor’s fabled deliveries!