Broiled Branzino, Steamed Artichokes and Panzanella Salad
Oh boy. Again with a post revolving around something beautiful purchased at McCall’s Meat & Fish Company. You must think I’m getting bribed with free slabs of Argentinean beef or some jumbo lump crab in exchange for multiple posts about this artisan butcher/seafood shop in Los Feliz, but I promise you, my love for their stuff is the only reason why I can’t seem to stop talking about them. Besides, if you met owners/butchers/fish mongers Karen Yoo and Nathan McCall, you’d know they’re honest, hardworking people whose main desire is to have their customers experience truly fresh and delicious food. Not only do they have the best stuff, but they’re always available for cooking advice or menu ideas, and best of all, they are two of the friendliest people around…which is saying a lot for a couple who work about 280 hours a week. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but the truth is pretty close.
J and I decided that we’re going to try and buy our weekly supply of protein from local shops instead of the grocery store; ditto with our produce from farmer’s markets instead of a neon-lit supermarket. Food just tastes better when it hasn’t been forced to grow quickly or plumped up with chemicals, and we want everything we put into our mouths to taste great! Plus supporting local businesses and farmers is putting our money where it really counts.
Since we were buying for the entire week, I came home from McCall’s with a whole chicken, a tub of fresh non-GMO all natural handmade tofu (which I can’t WAIT to spoon into!), a pack of herbed smoked trout and two whole branzino. I felt like I hit the lottery as I carried my goodies home.
Initially, I was going to save the branzino for tonight (Monday) but they looked so damned pretty that I couldn’t resist cooking them up for Sunday dinner. Inspiration hit and before long, I had an exact menu in my head and it came together very quickly. Here’s what we had:
Steamed artichokes- I bought these gorgeous specimens at the Eagle Rock farmer’s market but then J pointed out that I’d probably end up heating up our already warm house (our poor, vintage floor-unit A/C can’t really compete with 95 degree heat) and since artichokes take awhile to steam, I almost decided to scrap the idea. Then I remembered my handy dandy Japanese rice cooker which also steams! Woot! I trimmed the tops, cut out the chokes, cut them in half (in order to make them fit into the rice cooker) and let them steam, insulated, for an hour. Easy!
The branzino was pretty much perfect as is, so I seasoned the outside and inside with salt and pepper, stuffed the cavity with lemon slices and flat-leaf parsley and drizzled a bit of olive oil on top before broiling for five minutes on each side (thanks Karen, for the perfect cooking time!). The skin got nice and crisp, and the flesh was flaky, tender, moist and utterly delicious. I made some salsa verde out of lemon juice, parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper to drizzle on top but the fish didn’t really need it. I think J and I ate every available piece of flesh from each fish.
J and I’d eaten at Barbrix in Silverlake last week, and my favorite thing was a panzanella salad made with beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I did my best to recreate it with the heirlooms, cucumbers and arugula I’d bought (again, farmer’s market) and toasted up cubes of La Brea Bakery multigrain bread, then tossed it all with a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The soft, juicy tomatoes combined with cool, crunchy cucumbers and slightly chewy, crisp bread soaked in the dressing is a lethal texture/flavor combo.
Every time we eat like this, I just remember that quality ingredients require little or no manipulation and shine on their own, which is the perfect way to cook (or not cook!) during these hot summer months. Food just tastes better when it’s fresh!