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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What To Do With... Capers

These salty little darlings are one of my favourite things. Capers are the pickled or salted bud of a Mediterranean shrub aptly named a caper bush. (What else?) A jar of these briny little nubs don’t last long at our house.

Like anchovies, capers play a great supporting cast member. They have a special affinity for fish and chicken. They add a brightness to these delicate flavours that doesn’t overwhelm.

There are a multitude of uses for capers, and I love them all:

As an add in:
1. Added to a pasta sauce – like a puttanesca
2. Chopped up and added to a tuna fish sandwich mixture or potato salad
3. Black Mission Fig and Olive Tapenade

Classic Preparations:
4. Sole Grenobloise: a lemon butter sauce with capers on top of sole (or any white fish)
5. Garnished on top of smoked salmon with sprigs of dill
6. Included in classic sauces such as tartar sauce; remoulade and Cesar dressing
7. Chicken Veracruzano: a delicious chicken dish with an olive, onion, and tomato topping
8. Chicken Piccata: lightly breaded chicken breasts served with a sauce made with chicken broth, capers, and butter.
9. Added to bruschetta
10. Chicken Marbella: This classic Silver Palate recipe is a go-to recipe in our home. It’s delicious and so easy to make. It is really great for a crowd and the flavours are better the next day so this makes it a great make-ahead recipe for the holidays. This recipe is all over the internet and most versions I saw hardly deviated from the original. It’s delicious.

Chicken Marbella
Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook

12-15 boneless, skinless chicken thighs*
1 head of garlic, peeled and pureed
2 tbsp oregano (powdered)
½ c white wine vinegar
1/2c olive oil**
1c pitted prunes
1c green olives
1/2c capers (with a bit of the juice)
1c brown sugar**
1c white wine
1/4c fresh parsley, chopped coarsely

1. Marinate the chicken in the garlic puree, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives and capers. (The longer the better, the original recipe calls for overnight and I think its worth the wait.)
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Pour chicken and marinate into an oven proof dish, add white wine and sprinkle brown sugar.
4. Bake for an hour. Serve over rice, garnish with parsley.

*we’ve tried it with chicken breasts, too but thighs are much better
**I have reduced the amount of sugar and olive oil – this works for me but others might consider it sacrilege.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shout Out

In the course of our lifetime, we meet hundreds if not thousands of people. Some stop briefly, while others linger, get cozy and stay for a while. I met my friend, Abby, in a cool little town named, Kota Kinabalu in an exotic faraway place called Malaysian Borneo. She was just finishing off a tour of Asia before she heading off to start law school in the US, and I was on the front-end of a nine month backpacking sojourn throughout Asia. We both reluctantly signed up for a guided tour to re-assure worrying parents at home that at least a portion of our travels would be “safe.” As single girls, fate and the tour paired us together.

I arrived in Borneo and checked into the hotel already to find that the “other girl” was already there. Darn, I wouldn’t get first dibs on the beds. She had just come back from a hair salon smelling of Aqua-Net (or some highly fragrant hair care product). She offered me a slice of carrot cake (?) and we got to the business of getting to know each other. We shared our travel stories thus far and our life before embarking on travel. It was immediately apparent to us that we were meant to be friends. We found more similarities than differences: long distance running, politics, travel, scuba, and of course, food!

We spent about two weeks travelling together, climbed Mount Kinabalu together and zipped around Sabah eating juicy pineapples, roti telur (a thin buttery pancake folded into a tiny parcel with a cooked egg in every bite), and prawn curries. We watched a bootleg copy of Spiderman on the evening of our “home-stay” with a local family and bathed in the Kinabatangan River, which is full of saltwater crocodiles (or so I was told.) It was a very enchanting and exciting experience.

Back at home, Abby only lived about an hour by plane and over the years we stayed in touch and visited on occasion. Now she lives a supremely “glamour” life in the City of Lights and keeps me posted on her whereabouts on Facebook. When she recently asked me for a healthy fish recipe, how could I refuse a kindred spirit?

The recipe that I share with you below is something that my husband and I have been making for years. He says it’s my signature dish. We usually have this dish at least once a week in the winter. It is influenced by something my mother used for cook for me when I was younger and has some of my most favourite flavours: ginger, green onions, and shitake mushrooms. It’s a fast dinner and really easy to make. We usually serve it over a bowl of brown rice.

2 basa fillets (or any other thick lean white fish – haddock, halibut), boneless and skinless
1 thumb sized piece of ginger (I am talking Andre the Giant thumb size or more if you dare)
2 stalks green onions, sliced
5 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 c water
2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp soy sauce

Oyster sauce
Sesame oil

1. Peel and julienne ginger.
2. Place fillets in a large skillet or casserole (You are looking for a pan that is wide but also has walls, also choose one that has a lid.) Add 1c of water, sprinkle fish sauce and soy sauce over top.
3. Scatter green onions, ginger, shitakes on top of the fish.
4. Drizzle oyster sauce over top and cover. Turn on the heat to medium heat and allow the fish to get steamy. Leave on stove top for another 5 minutes. (Fish should cook quickly. If you are uncertain of the “doneness,” find an inconspicuous edge of the fillet and gently stick the fork in, if the fish flakes and crumbles under your fork, you’re probably close to being done.)
5. Remove off heat, and serve over rice, spooning broth over top.
6. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve.
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