Saturday, January 23, 2010

A super simple meal worth noting

Last spring I was fortunate enough to find myself in Portugal. It was a great place, with nice people and incredible food. It all served as a reminder of the value of freshness. Meat, cheese, bread and beer usually comes from within miles of where it is consumed. "local" is not a label you search for, it is presumed.
The simplest things made in the simplest ways can make a huge impression if their quality is outstanding, and that's what Portuguese food relies on, especially when it comes to seafood. . I've eaten at Portuguese spots in the States that never really come through, the preparations are just too simple. It's as if the original cook were saying "Listen, this dish won't work unless you're eating it in front of the water where it was caught."

Shrimp from the Algarve Sea. . . enjoyed at the Algarve Sea. They're simply sauteed garlic and butter, along with fried fish, cold beer and yes . . . potatoes. I know this looks staged, but it's real. I acknowledge it may be circumstantial, but this was one of the most memorable meals of my life.

Today at the fish market, the sardines were screaming out at me for some reason, they looked really fresh, so I decided to take the leap, and maybe recreate a simple meal I remember from the streets of Lisbon: Grilled sardines with fried potato "scraps". (pictured here {in the back} with clams Alentejo, grilled dorade and octopus salad)

I had the fish place scale the sardines, which just means spraying them with a high pressure hose against the grain of the scales (tail to head). If you had to do it yourself you can simply rub them up and rinse them off. I don't clean them until they're cooked.
To cook I simply pat them very dry, brush them with oil, and season well with salt. They go directly into a hot grill pan for 3-4 minutes on each side . . . and that's it, they're done.

The potatoes are a little trickier, by Portuguese standards anyways. I imagine the shape originates from cooking potato peels made with a knife, and now we just peel the whole thing. The shape gives a unique combination of crispy edges with soft center. You make it by using a pairing knife to shave off tidbits of potato, rotating it until you get to the center.

Once you have all of your scraps, I used the "french fry" technique of par-frying them at 325 degrees for 2-3 minutes and then cranking up the oil and crisping them up at around 375-400 degrees for a minute or two.

The view of the final product from across a sea of fresh homemade garlic aioli. We ate it all.

The whole shebang, served with a squeeze of lemon and an arugula salad. While it didn't quite live up to my meals on the sea in Portugal. It will certainly happen again when I find the right sardines for the job.
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