Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Corvina is just about the most delicious fish in the world - it's certainly the finest in my world. Somehow one of the supermarkets local to me has obtained a supply of it, and, perhaps not knowing what they have on their hands, is selling it for about six bucks a pound. Score!

This is what you should use to make ceviche, by the way. Mexican ceviche tends to have fish, shrimp, scallops, and other stuff in it, and it's fine, but proper Panamanian ceviche is made from just corvina, onion, aji chombo peppers (scotch bonnets or habañeros), lime juice, and perhaps a bit of salt.

We'll serve the fish with Brussels sprouts; perhaps the most delicious vegetable in the world (yes, this post is full of superlatives) if properly prepared, and one of the most disgusting if mishandled. Wash, trim, and bisect them:

Parboil them in boiling water for about two minutes, then plunge them in an ice bath to halt the cooking process. Let them dry on a paper towel while we prepare the fish. All we're doing as far as prep is to cut the filet in manageable portions, season with salt and pepper, and dust with flour. Note the garlic on the side there - that's for the Brussels sprouts.

Have a nice white wine on hand. This is a pretty oakey Chardonnay, perhaps a bit much for this dish, but I like it quite a lot.

Start the Brussels sprouts early (they take a bit longer). Sauté them in olive oil with salt and pepper, taking care to get the cut sides nice and brown. When they're about done, toss in the garlic and finish with a bit of the wine after the garlic cooks in.

Meanwhile, sear the fish in a bit of olive oil with added butter. After it's turned and allowed to cook a bit on the other side, add some of the wine, a sprinkling of fresh thyme, and cover to poach gently till done. I'm pretty sure this is how they used to prepare it at La Casa de Mariscos in Panama City.

Plated, with plain white rice with a bit of butter (an affectation of mine) and lime wedges:

I have no idea where or how that supermarket is getting corvina, but I hope they continue to offer it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pepper Steak

This is, perhaps, my favorite faux-oriental dish, and my method recalls how Mom used to make it. I usually use sirloin steak, but for whatever reason decided to try flank steak this time - and it was rather good. I'll probably make it with flank steak from now on.

Anyway, the ingredients: steak, garlic, green pepper, tomato, bean sprouts, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. Cornstarch as a thickening agent. The normal recipe I work from calls for green onions as a garnish, but I was out - so I used a little white onion sliced very thin. Oh, and short-grain white rice of course.

Mise en place: slice the steak very thin (it helps to put it in the freezer for about an hour first, even if you have a very sharp knife), mince the garlic, slice the green pepper, dice the tomato, and add a bit of water to the cornstarch. Here I've also sliced my white-onion garnish; if I were using green onions I'd just chop them up.

Start the rice. These specialized rice-washing things you can get at Asian supermarkets work quite well. Note how there's a matrix of nubs in the bottom and another matrix of slots in a pour spout on the side - the nubs are for scrubbing the rice, and the slots are for draining the water out.

Anyway, you throw the rice in...

Add some water, and scrub a bit...

And pour the water off. Repeat once or twice if you like, but that's it!

The rice water will look kind of milky. Don't drink this. It won't hurt you, of course, but it's not really very good.

Anyway, once you've washed the rice, add it to the rice cooker with the appropriate amount of cooking water - or, if you're old-school, steam it on the stove top.

Now, then; on to the main course. First, get your wok rocket-hot - or just use a skillet or a large sauté pan, but preferably one without a nonstick coating that you can get nice and hot.


Throw in the steak and sear it. Let it get good and brown on one side before stirring it around.

After the steak is done, season it with some salt and pepper, and add the sugar and soy sauce:

And the vegetables:

Cover and allow to steam gently for about 15 minutes.

By this time the rice should be done:

The steaming of the meat and vegetables should have created a fair amount of sauce.

Stir the cornstarch and water together and use that to thicken it up:

And that's it! Serve it up in a bowl and garnish with green onions (or, in this instance, sliced white onion):

Plate it over the rice, and enjoy....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Meyer Lemon Sidecar

A sidecar is brandy, triple sec, and lemon juice - sort of a weird snooty cousin to the margarita, and certainly not as popular these days. It's not really clear where and how the cocktail originated, but one version has it that it was a favorite of a US Army Captain in Paris during WWI, and named for the motorcycle sidecar he was driven to and from the bar in. Who knows....

Meyer lemons, which are kind of like a hybrid of oranges and lemons, make a sidecar just a bit more fun. They can be kind of hard to find, and they don't last very long in the refrigerator, so take advantage of them whenever you can.


Squeeze and strain your Meyer lemon (they're quite seedy and pulpy), and shake one part juice very well with one part Cointreau and two parts brandy. (I was out of brandy, so I used this pretty nice cognac someone gave me a few years ago.) Serve it straight up in chilled stemware with a sugar rim.

A fine cocktail - one of my personal favorites. Not too tart, not too sweet, and the hint of orange is really nice. I don't remember where I originally found this recipe - probably on some food blog here or there - but I'm glad I did.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Empanadas are, essentially, meat pies. (There are empanadas made with fruit and vegetables as well, but this post is about meat empanadas.) Practically every culture in the world has meat pies in one form or another; empanadas are the variety - varieties, actually - that appeared on the Iberian peninsula during the time of the Moorish invasion and which can be found all over the Hispanic world today.

These are my interpretation of the empanadas we Zonians used to buy at our clubhouses. (It's difficult to explain the concept of a "clubhouse" in this sense to a non-Zonian. Just think of it as a kind of cafeteria, with perhaps a movie theater, a bowling alley, a soda fountain, and / or a public swimming pool or other such attached.)

They're cocktail empanadas; meaning the sort of thing you'd find at a party in a private home or at a wedding reception at an Officers' Club. A larger variety, suitable for a typical Zonian's or Panamanian's lunch two or three times a week, was more common.

First we fry up some ground beef and pork: 

While that's cooking, we prepare our vegetables, spices, and herbs. Here we have onion, green pepper, tomatoes, parsley, and sliced green olives w/ pimento, as well as red pepper, black pepper, salt, oregano, and a bay leaf. The canonical recipe(s) also typically include(s) hard-boiled eggs, capers, and currants, but I usually leave the eggs and currants out. I've also left the capers out this time, but only because I happened not to have any at hand at the time.

Note that I've prepared a smaller bowl of all of the above ingredients. This is because I'm making a smaller batch of shrimp empanadas for someone who doesn't eat red meat. I don't think I've ever seen a shrimp empanada in Panama or the Canal Zone, but it sounded like a perfect opportunity for an experiment - and, as a matter of fact, those turned out rather well.

Rather than sweat or sauté the vegetables separately, we just add them to the beef and pork once it gets going pretty good:

For the shrimp empanadas, however, we sweat the vegetables and spices separately in just a bit of oil:  

Here's what the red-meat mixture looks like after a while. We'll cook it down a bit more to reduce the volume of liquid, and if too much remains behind we'll just drain it off.

The shrimp, of course, we just throw into their pan to par-cook.

The next day (or whenever the filling has cooled), we assemble the empanadas.

Those dough rounds are just plain pastry dough, like you'd use for a pie. I always cheat and just buy some boxes of pie-dough mix at the supermarket - making the filling and assembling the empanadas is trouble enough, and nobody ever seems to notice anything wrong with the crust. I guess if I were working for Dean Fearing or somebody like that I might take more care with it.

The dough rounds are folded over the filling into half-moon shapes and crimped with a fork. Here on the left we see two pans of beef-and-pork empanadas and one small pan of shrimp empanadas, ready for the oven:


And here's what they look like after having an egg wash brushed on them and baked at 350° for a while. 

These were a big hit. They always are!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Morning Drivetime Handmeal Options

I still can't believe I thought this might be a good idea:

The filling is rather bland and lifeless, and the coating is greasy and fragile. Not good commuter food at all.

These, on the other hand, aren't too bad:

The crust (note that I didn't write "coating") is neither flaky nor tender, but it's dry and serviceable. And the filling has just about the right balance of identifiable meat, cheese, and egg to qualify as real food.

Moral: stick with what's real and what you know, even when purchasing processed foods. Empanadas are real food. "Omelet Crisper?" Never heard of it.

(apologies to Larry Niven)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jack Rose

The Jack Rose is a classic that's fallen out of favor - it just hasn't enjoyed the continued popularity of the Manhattan or Martini, or even, say, the Sidecar. It's a fair bet that most bartenders will have to look it up in Jones (or, in the less-fancy places, Mr. Boston's). Fortunately, it's enjoying a bit of a revival.

It's one part Grenadine, two parts lime juice, and four parts applejack. If you can't find applejack, you can use calvados, but by no means should you use store-bought grenadine when it's so easy to make your own. Just start with a pint of pomegranate juice, simmer it with a cup of cane sugar till it's reduced to about a cup, and chill it. You can add a bit of 100-proof vodka to it as a preservative, but it'll keep fairly well in the refrigerator without it.

Anyway: shake it well in a standard cocktail shaker (I use my standard 128-count), and serve it straight up in chilled stemware. It's really quite a nice little tipple - not too sweet, just a little tart, and who doesn't like apples?

Pasta with Red Meat Sauce

Mise en place: beef, veal, onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, pasta, parmesan. I used to simmer this for hours, but lately I've just been using a pressure cooker. The results are slightly different in a way I can't quite put my finger on, but pretty good either way.
Sweat the onions and bell pepper in a little olive oil in the pressure cooker, adding garlic at the end.

Remove the vegetables and brown the meat...

.. and drain. I find it easiest to just use a strainer in a trash can.

These San Marzano tomatoes are a little pricey, but they're worth the extra expense.

Add them to the pressure cooker along with their juice, and crush them with a - um, whatever that thing is. A masher, I guess.

Then add the meat back in along with the herbs, and simmer a bit.

Add the vegetables back to the pot...

.. seal it up, bring it to pressure, and cook for about half an hour.

Run under water to release the pressure.

The finished sauce:

Boil the pasta.


I learned this from my dad, who'd been making it for as far back as I can remember. I don't think he used bell pepper, and I think he added some neck bones as well, but of course you can change this up any way you like. Last time I made it I browned a strip of pork chine (the little bones from a rack of ribs that you usually just cut off and cook separately), and that added quite a lot of flavor.