Saturday, 30 March 2013

Monkfish: The poor man's lobster

If you've ever encountered a monkfish and a lobster in a bar, I'm certain the monkfish was the ugly sister! There's no understating how truly unattractive this fish is! Okay, an unlikely encounter. More likely you'd encounter a monkfish in the North Atlantic, primarily from North Carolina to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. They're harvested fresh for their tails September through April and available frozen all year round. These seabed predators are called monkfish or sea monks for their cloaking ability or ability to camouflage themselves and ambush prey.

In old time Norwegian lore, it was believed that a giant monkfish lurked the Norwegian sea and was often depicted by artists as a steely toothed monster with mouth agape. Many trawlers and scallop draggers once considered them useless bycatch before they gained  popularity among Scandinavian and European families as an affordable alternative to the much more expensive lobster. Despite its regrettable exterior appearance, their tails have a subtle sweet taste and a density similar to the meat of a lobster or scallop. At temperature the meat is white and can be enjoyed with almost any sauce. It can be used as an alternative in almost any imaginable lobster recipe. It's for the similarities the monkfish and lobster share that it gains its alias, "poor man's lobster."

I've had every opportunity to dance with the poor man's lobster and have truly enjoyed the commonality. Like many other seafood ingredients, monkfish has an unforgiving temperature window and must be prepared attentively to truly enjoy its fluffy and dense character. From brothy fish soup recipes to diverse pasta creations from Surf and Turf combinations to saucy staring roles, this lobster like ingredient will intrigue your dinner party guests and spark the dinner table conversation.

It's funny that I have always thought no one ever looked down at a finished plate or ingredient and said, "That looks like crap! I betcha it tastes delicious!" My theory is proven wrong because someone, somewhere and well before my humble existence, netted a monster of the sea that looked like crap but tasted delicious!

Perform a monster makeover of your own and transform a monster of the sea into a gorgeous bacon wrapped medallion and your guests into steely toothed monsters with mouths agape!

You'll need:

500g monkfish tail, sliced lengthwise into 2 fillets
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
12 thin strips dry-cured smoked bacon
1 small bag baby new potatoes 
300g green beans , trimmed and cut into bite sized diagonal shards 
1 package watercress, snipped
2 cloves garlic, crushed 
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard 
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Boil the new potatoes whole, skins on. Add the green bean shards 3min before the potatoes will be ready. The potatoes should be cooked but firm and beans still crisp. Strain and rinse with warm water. Leave it aside.

Lay the monkfish fillets on a board and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Make sure the fillets are dry. Lay the fillets on top of one another with a tapered end a wide end on each side. Wrap with bacon strips firmly around the fillets with all loose bacon ends on the bottom. On a preheated skillet lined with parchment place the wrapped monkfish roll with bacon ends on the bottom for 8 min or until the bacon crisps. Roll with tongs another 8 min until the bacon is crisp all round. When the fish is firm to touch remove skillet from heat and leave to rest covered.

Mix the crushed garlic, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil  for a vinaigrette.

Toss the warm potatoes and beans in the vinaigrette. Divide on to four plates. Scatter fresh watercress on top of each. Slice and place a  2cm thick monkfish medallion on top. Drizzle your dishes with all juices from the monkfish skillet.

Also nice when garnished with oven roasted cherry tomatoes!



Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sriracha Thai Chili Sauce: By Huy Fong Foods Inc.

September 1994, the Buffalo Bills were in the first month of the season. Fresh off their 4th consecutive Super Bowl loss and the second in a row to the Dallas Cowboys. It's a record that will never be broken. I had managed three tickets from the Buffalo Bills box office for a sunny Sunday afternoon tilt with the Indianapolis Colts. Now you can't make the trip from Orillia, ON to Orchard Park, NY with out taking in everything Niagara Falls has to offer. Weekend planned! Our trio booked a hotel and departed on the Friday evening.

We made a timely check in and awoke to some immaculate September weather! In our t-shirts, we did all the Niagara things. Took pictures of the falls, visited the wax museum, rode the tram, checked out different restaurants and of course you have to swirl around at the bottom of the falls aboard the legendary vessel, The Maid of the Mist!

Sunday morning was game day and we were up and at it. No time to waste! We were traveling with a female among us so of course we had to be up way too early, wolf down a continental breakfast, cross the border, and first stop in Buffalo to wander the dreaded..........MALL!
Farewell tailgate party, so long convenient parking spot and hello shoes she'll never ever wear. I played along, I went, I dragged my feet like a sloth. Then I saw it. The most enormous island kiosk smack dab in the middle of the mall hallway. It was a hot sauce kiosk. I mean an enormous hot sauce kiosk! There must have been 500 to choose from!

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I have a fever for the sinus enhancing fruit. I'm pepper crazy! In all its varieties; Scotch bonnet, jalapeno,  habenero, sweet, pickled, fat, slim, tall, short, red, yellow or green, peppers are my bag. I didn't know where to start.
The Gappetto like character manning the kiosk sent me on my merry way with 12 different pepper varieties and a complimentary bottle to make the bakers dozen. Sriracha Thai Chili Sauce by Huy Fong Foods Inc.

It was a nice haul, that grab bag of hot sauce from the U.S. of A. I enjoyed almost all of them for their distinct characteristics and ingredients. As much as I like heat, I won't compromise flavor for a Guinness World Record for Scoville heat units, diluted ingredients or heavy vinegar based product. Sriracha Thai Chili Sauce is the perfect balance of flavor and heat. Made with sun ripened chili's and garlic, it's a ground paste that contains no artificial colours or flavors. Packaged in a convenient squeeze bottle, this wonderful bright red sauce is stamped with a distinctive rooster logo.

I have found many uses for sriracha besides the traditional hot sauce delegations. It's a legit and versatile ingredient in my book. That's what's most notable for me. That's what puts Siracha Thai Chili Sauce on my top shelf.

Chili con carne
Shrimp cocktail sauce
Any tomato based creation and almost any protein

When my most prized bottle of all hot sauce bottles gasped it's last breath over a cauldron of home made chunky salsa, I visited almost every grocery store in Orillia. I called the ones I didn't by phone. Nobody I spoke with was familiar with the product. After inquiring with a number of whole sale food providers to no avail, I resorted to my 1994 dial up internet. No results for sriracha. I searched Huy Fong Foods Inc. and found a company in Los Angeles, California. I phoned to make my inquiries only to learn that they were a small, modest company that didn't sell their product in Canada. They agreed to ship me their product if I ordered at least a case. I did just that.

It took me nearly 18 months to deplete my supply of beloved rooster sauce. By then Huy Fong Foods Inc. was distributing in Canada. Today they're among industry leaders and their product can be found in almost all Canadian grocery stores. The rooster will always have its place in my refrigerator door.
I have since seen Sriracha Thai Chili Sauce used as an ingredient on Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen and even Iron Chef! Chefs don't use condiments in their dishes! That makes me particularly proud of my chance discovery and pursuit in 1994.

All and all it was memorable road trip with friends. We took in the Niagara attractions, witnessed a 10-6 Buffalo Bills drubbing from the highest of nose bleed sections. We met Dave Andreychuk, who had just enjoyed a couple of exciting playoff runs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. We paid a homeowner $30 to park on her lawn with 60 other vehicles that didn't get early bird parking spaces. We  raced a kilometer to Rich Stadium and found our seats just in time to be a part of the opening kick off cheer. Good times!
All that aside, the highlight for me has to be that stop in Buffalo to wander that dreaded..........MALL and that wonderful island kiosk of spicy variety.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Harbour Street Brasserie

There isn't much time for recreation in my business.Those of you that work in the industry would surely attest. Long hours, double shifts, split shifts, on call and weekends. It's not an easy business and if you're like me, you feel like a vampire living opposite ends of the day from all those 9 to 5 weekend offer's.What can I say? We're dedicated, passionate workaholics.

As unpredictable and erratic as our schedules get, it's important to enjoy a little break in the action and take advantage of those off season lulls and lazy weekdays. I have a favorite little spot that I like to go, even if it's for a little two day getaway. I've been going there once every summer for 15 years and It's well worth the 2 1/2 hour drive from Toronto. It's a quaint little British influenced town on Lake Huron called Kincardine.

The locals hardly have anything to boast of their ghastly, Siberian like winters but in the summer months there is always something going on! Scottish festivals, fishing charters, sail boating, windsurfing, street dances, folk festivals, beautiful public beaches and a lot of semi private beach stretches as well. ;)

Kincardine is a beautiful little beach town famous for their sunsets. Every hot summer night; locals and tourists alike, can be found parading their blankets and lawn chairs through the town streets, gathering to watch the sunset over Lake Huron. If you're lucky enough to be there on a Saturday night, the Phantom Piper will play his bagpipes atop the marina lighthouse as the sky lights its wondrous hue to end another summer date. I could go on and on about this special town and it's special place in my heart but I must get to my point of discussion. The Harbour Street Brasserie.

The Harbour Street Brasserie is easily a highlight for me anytime I have visited Kincardine. With it's upper casual to formal dining atmosphere it's made comfortable with it's Colonial, cottage like ambiance and professional service. A solid, simple menu keeps ingredients fresh and is complimented by fresh daily dinner features that will have you torn between ordering one of everything or booking a second dinner reservation. A must every time I go!

Last time I visited with a lady friend and entertained another couple from Toronto. We dined on the patio over looking the tennis courts and Lake Huron. The patio is hard covered in gazebo like fashion and the light glowed as the sun neared the water. We had some laughs and good conversation while the violinist played a birds song behind our white linen table. Presented with care and fresh ingredients, I enjoyed the escargot for appetizer, braised lamb shank for entree and creme brule for dessert. What a great night, great food and great wine selections.

My guests returned to Kincardine 5 weekends straight!


Appetizer: Escargot

Entree: Braised Lamb Shank, Surf & Turf

Desert: Creme Brule

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Everything Food and Service

My name is Chris Boukouris and I'm excited to launch my new blog. I've had a foot in the Food & Beverage industry for 25yrs in all capacities. I'm happy to share my experiences and knowledge and put a positive spin on the profession. Please enjoy my upcoming articles on a wide range of topics. I look forward to your comments on them:





Wine, Beer and Spirits

Industry events

Quality products and techniques

People of the industry

and much. much more.....

Feel free to disagree, concur, share and converse on my blog. Lets enjoy where ever the discussion spins. Lets get down to the good, the bad and the ugly of everything I'm inspired by.

Welcome to my blog! :)