How to Throw a Baja Fish Taco Party

A Chicago Backyard and Many Happy People

24th Jun 2011

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Mexican food is made for parties. The construction of tortillas, fillings, salsas, and toppings; the spicy, rich flavors; and above all, the fact that it tastes so darn good. This was our guiding principle on a recent Saturday when, with the help of a handful of talented friends, we threw a Baja Fish Taco party under warm string lights in a Chicago backyard.

We were celebrating one of the e...

Introducing The Soft Shell Crab Sandwich...with Bacon

Getting a head start on the season

16th May 2011

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Soft shell crab season is here, generally considered to begin at some point in May.  So we here at The Paupered Chef decided it was time to take advantage.  Generally, the soft shell crab  is dusted with flour and fried up in a skillet, and I'm not sure there is a better way to prepare this crustacean than this recipe by David Lentz from Food & Wine magazine : stuffed into a crusty baguette...

Trout a la Meunière, or Sharing a Culinary Epiphany with Julia Child

The original celebrity chef helps us out with this French classic.

4th May 2010

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A variation on meunière sauce with almonds

In one of the opening scenes of My Life in France , Julia Child experiences an early meal in France with her husband, Paul, a lunch at La Couronne, a medieval house turned restaurant built in 1345. After oysters, she goes on to describe an early culinary epiphany, apart of what would become "the most exciting meal of my life."

Paul had...

The Mystery of the Chicken Oyster

How to save the oyster while cutting up chicken.

24th Feb 2010

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The chicken oyster. It sounds strange. But also intriguing enough to suggest deliciousness. I've heard other people talk about this elusive piece of meat hidden somewhere on the chicken. Only smart cooks know about it, like Thomas Keller, who mentions it in his recipe for " My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken " in the Bouchon cookbook. When the chicken is done roasting, the skin golde...

My Chicago: Caputo Cheese Market, and a Search for Bottarga

This fishy roe is a meal in itself.

26th Jan 2010

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My Chicago is about life as a cooks and eaters in our home city. Markets, restaurants, secret finds, really tasty bites--or just a great story. We're lucky to live here.

Bottarga would handily win the award for "foodstuff with least correlation between attractiveness and deliciousness," if such a thing existed.  It is a brown, firm lobe, and, poor thing, really quite ugly. A cured, pres...

In Praise of Open-Faced Sandwiches

Some sandwiches don't need a top.

21st Jan 2010

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Personally, I didn't need any convincing, but after seeing the above picture, I can see why you might. It's the same reason Alton Brown went to great lengths on a recent episode of Good Eats to hide a central ingredient in his recipe. Something small, something oily, something canned, something with a rather poor reputation. This particular foodstuff was apart of a puzzling, yet intriguing...

A Visit to Fulton Street Fish Market: Part 2, Hunts Point and the Market

19th Aug 2008

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My last post about the Fulton Street Fish market covered its history, including corruption and mob connections, leading up to the 2005 move from lower Manhattan up to Hunts Point in the Bronx.  This post is about our actual experience in the market: how it functioned, what Hunts Point is like today, and a few good eats in the area.  While in Hunts Point we met a few fish buyers, ate in 2...

A Visit to the Fulton Street Fish Market: Part I, History

12th Aug 2008

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If you walk around Manhattan, it often seems like more than half of the stores are restaurants, most of them busy and stuffed with people.  It doesn't take much thinking before one wonders how all that food gets into the kitchens to feed them all.  And not just the dining-out set: what about grocery stores?  And bodegas.  And butchers.  And fish mongers.  The sheer quantity of food moved...

New Orleans (Faraway, So Close): The Sad Tale of File Gumbo

28th May 2008

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I can't remember exactly where the conversation began, or why we suddenly started talking about New Orleans, but for about 5 minutes last Friday Night I waxed poetic about the Crescent City.  My interest has been explored before , but apparently my chatter seemed especially interesting that night.  I suppose I could have been because my friend Hal had never been, and I took umbrage. ...

Fennel-Cured Salmon Part 2: Out From the Deep

4th Feb 2008

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It didn't look pretty.  After two days in the fridge, my fennel-cured salmon looked something like a disaster.  A lot of the liquid had somehow seeped out of my protective covering.  This worried me because that meant the brine didn't probably coat the fish during the cure.  It might not be done. How would I know if it worked?

Ruhlman said to give it a touch.  "The salmon should be fir...

Fennel-Cured Salmon

30th Jan 2008

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Sparked with inspiration by Blake’s duck proscuitto , I procured Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and dug in.  Don’t let anyone fool you; it’s intimidating stuff.  Curing food is the exact opposite of the cooking I’ve become used to.  I love to take fresh ingredients and then cook them quickly, without much fuss.  This process, hopefully, highlights the good quality of i...

Linguine with Clams from the Babbo Kitchen, via Bill Buford

From his memoir Heat

24th Jan 2008

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My favorite passages from Bill Buford's Heat are set in the Babbo kitchen, when he describes with fear and awe the wonder that is a busy restaurant kitchen at dinnertime-- tickets flying, steam vaporizing, oil popping. Orders arrive faster than they can be made; you are perpetually behind. The heat, of course, is unbearable-- like a shimmering wall when you enter the kitchen. Sweat...

The Mystery of Salt-Packed Anchovies

21st Jan 2008

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Quality ranges considerably; the worst come in a brine or packed in oil (often rancid); the best anchovies tend to be packed in salt, are worth seeking out, and can be delicious by themselves.

- Michael Ruhlman, [ The Elements of Cooking A to Z ](Paupered Chef - Salt-Packed Anchovies )

On one of my last Brooklyn weekends before the big move to the Mid-West, I spent most of my time...

New Year''s Eve in Five Parts

2nd Jan 2008

Welcome to 2008! Abby and I spent New Year's Eve constructing the ultimate meal.  We spent a small fortune at Whole Foods and walked away with a lot of shellfish and a fillet mignon or two.  Since we weren't going to some fancy black tie event, we felt okay about spending more money than we would for a weeknight meal.  We sort of had a carte blanche to create whatever we could dream up.  He...

Elkano Restaurante in Getaria, Spain: "El Mejor Pescado en Mi Vida"

12th Dec 2007

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"No, no, no!" our waiter was saying, dashing across the room to our white-tableclothed table, where we were sitting in front of a grilled Turbot. I was politely transferring a portion of the fish's glistening meat to my plate with two forks.

"It's very important to us," he began to explain, almost out of breath, while taking my fork and knife, "to eat with our hands."  He picked up the fis...

Crab Cakes On the Cheap

23rd Aug 2007

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On my way home from work every day, I walk down Lexington Avenue and risk the smell, squeeze, and auditory onslaught that is the Grand Central station subway stop.  I never get to see the beautiful, soaring interior of the actual terminal , which looks like a starry night's sky.  No.  Only the passage where everyone else shoves into this awful, grubby stairway under a Strawberry clothing...

Fresh Fish Ohio Style (by way of Indonesia)

15th Aug 2007

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I wondered often about what I'd have to give up, culinary speaking, when I moved from New York to Ohio, but most my fears have proved to be unwarranted.  There is a fantastic farmer’s market and utterly divine regional specalities (try Jeni's ice cream!).  But fish has been hard.  Most of the stuff in grocery stores looks decent, but it has been previously frozen and thawed at the store....

Shrimp Etouffee: How to Waste Time Happily

6th Aug 2007

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I just watched Emeril make shrimp etouffee in about 10 minutes.  I’m sure some of that time was saved thanks to the precut vegetables, pre-made stock, and carefully placed commercial breaks.  But it was still a little disconcerting to see him whip up a slow moving dish with such manic energy.  He made it look quick and easy, which can't be said about this one.  Not only does this version...

A Weekend in Maine, Part 3: Acadia, Blue Hill, and Belfast on the Way Back to Portland

20th Jul 2007

After some disappointing lobster rolls , the raw beauty of a national park was just what we needed.  We drove into Acadia after dark, paid for a campsite, pitched our tent, and fell asleep immediately.  The sun rose hot and early, and I woke up squinting.  For a few minutes I thought we were going to start the day at 5 in the morning, but then I was able to pull the hood from the sweatshirt...

A Weekend in Maine, Part 2: Lobster Rolls on Route One

18th Jul 2007

After we left Portland , we didn't have much of a plan.  We knew we needed to arrive at Acadia National Park, about 150 miles away, by nightfall.  On the list was, of course, lobster.  We also wanted to see the famed L.L. Bean store.  A friend had insisted we see a place called Popham beach, and we also wanted to visit Blue Hill, where E.B. White used to spend summers.

Armed with page after...

South Africans Teach Us a Proper "Braai"

10th Jul 2007

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Last weekend, some of Elin’s friends that she met while getting her master’s degree in England came for a visit.  Max and Chris are both from South Africa.  They spent a long weekend with us and we did our best to show them our way of life in New York—playing the good hosts.  Often, guests find New York overwhelming, or they find the idea of it overwhelming.  “Where do I start?”...

What''s in the Wonton? Asian Dumplings for the Novice

30th May 2007

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My only real dumpling experience has been at the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar , a tasty, if tad expensive little shop in Flatiron.  There you could get fried or steamed dumplings with whatever filling you wanted for around $6.  A box full of those, a warm, sun-drenched day in Madison Square Park, and all is right with the world.  I know Chinatown has some great deals, some where 5 or more can...

Consider the Blue Crab

21st May 2007

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Everybody’s always talking about lobster--in a roll mixed with mayonnaise, sliced in two and charred on a grill, served with dipping butter next to a tender piece of filet mignon.  The fact is, this animal gets far too much attention.  No doubt about it, lobster is quite something--but how often can you afford to eat it?  For the same reason we rarely eat filet mignon--and then only when it/a>...

Cooking in a Bag: Cod with Mussels and Saffron-infused Wine

25th Apr 2007

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I’ve only recently reached a point where I’m ever so slightly bored with cooking. Don’t worry--it’s only a very subtle, mild boredom, easily fixed. But it’s there, and it’s a stage I’m sure many cooks experience periodically. What compels me to make the same old dish again? And even if I use new ingredients, isn’t it still the same technique? I’m a qualified saute-er, I can braise successfull...

Steamed Salmon and a Smelly Kitchen

12th Apr 2007

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Every once in a while I get really excited about something I've never made before, and before I really have a firm understanding about what I'm getting myself into,  I'm in the middle of making it.  "Hey, I've never made a whole ham . Let's do it tonight even though we have no guests."  This is the thinking that lead me to pull out an apparatus that has never, ever been used in my kitchen...

On Canned Salmon

12th Feb 2007

Img_1666 We all grew up on tuna fish sandwiches, whether we liked it or not.  Sally pulls out her bag of carrots and a PB & J, Frankie his bologna with Kraft slices, and I pull out a soggy, fishy, tuna sandwich, and everyone stares.  And holds their nose. But it turns out my mom was on the right track: James Beard famously said that tuna is the "only food better canned than fresh."  He was entirely w...

Clams Marinières (And More Thomas Keller "Building Blocks")

12th Jan 2007

Library_4903 I'm no stranger to clams.  I'm no stranger to the whole bivalve genus.  I think that we've cooked mussels more than any other dish for this website, even going so far as titling a post " Because You Can Throw Just About Anything In the Pot with Mussels and It Will Taste Glorious ."   Clams are cooked much the same way: you make a simple broth with herbs and usually a little butter...

Just Call it Baccala: How to Eat Salt Cod

11th Jan 2007

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I've been attempting to eat more fish this year.  In fact, it's something of a resolution for me.  Whether I did it to be healthier, get fitter, or simply have a more varied diet, I instantly dreamt of grilled salmon, roasted whole red snappers, halibut tacos, and other feasts of fresh, flaky fish that would pump me full of omega 3 and immune me from any possible disease.  What I wasn't thi...

1 Fish 2 Fish: How to Roast a Fish Whole

5th Jan 2007

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It's all around us: the studies exclaim the health benefits of fish and those miracle omega-3 fats, which you can either get by pill popping those capsules or by simply eating more fish.  With the New Year come and gone, and the resolutions stated, it is time for us to try and at least keep one:  We're going to try to eat more fish.  It's a rather hard resolution to keep--fish is expensive...

Spanish Braised Monkfish

23rd Oct 2006

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One of the many things that happens when you cook often and with whole ingredients is that you start to face up to the creatures you are eating.  When I roast a chicken at 500 degrees, handling its raw flesh and trussing it, and then take a large knife to its carcass, I still understand that this was once a feathered bird that bid its life on some farm, whether that was indoors or out.  I'm...

Because You Can Throw Just About Anything In the Pot with Mussels and It Will Taste Glorious

19th Oct 2006

Leek_mussels_7 Every time I go to a grocery store and, while making my merry way down the produce aisle, I see leeks, a little jolt of suspicion and hesitation runs through me.  My shoulders tense up a little, my eyes get shifty, and I keep walking.  What are those giant, oversized green onions?  What steroids have they been fed?  Are they from a Jonathan Swift novel?  And why do these arm-length veget...

White Bean Herb Salad with Tuna

13th Oct 2006

Tuna_bean_3 Lately I’ve been going to restaurants and leaving with ideas for what to cook at home.  A previous post , a salad of roasted squash and dandelion greens, was inspired by the restaurant 360 , an unpretentious little spot where you can eat for $25 and the wine list, which emphasises organic, is very reasonable.  My version of the squash salad wasn’t nearly as good--I didn’t have the...

Grill Week Day 2: New Territory for Mussels

29th Aug 2006

P1010020_1 To make a grill week interesting, you have to move beyond the basic hamburger, steak, boneless skinless chicken breast, and the occasional fish.  We've done steak twice before , and as we espoused during the Shake Shack Alternative week , we're not big fans of the charred-on-the-grill burger (naysayers and defenders, feel free to comment away).  Leave that business to dad. So,...

Grill Week Day 1: How the Grill Got Started / Grilled Salmon with Corn Salsa

27th Aug 2006

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And like that, it's over.  Summer's stronghold has disappeared.  The days no longer top out in the 90's, the sweat only beads down my face around noon, and that funk has actually started to lose it's grip on the 14th Street Station.  Last week I only walked on the side of the street completely covered in shadow, and now I can walk wherever I choose.  Really, I'm not sad.

But I just got a gr...

Shrimp and Snow Peas: Proper Parties and Toothpicks

20th Jul 2006

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There comes a point in our party-going lives when throwing a Saturday night get-together does not entail gathering up all the expensive things around the house and stacking them nicely in the bedroom behind lock and key.  No portraits need be taken down, no glassware gathered.  Laptops need not be stowed away so as to avoid the deluge of spilt drinks.  A party can be thrown where people act...

Penne with Smoked Trout and Sugar Snap Peas

15th Jun 2006

Paupered_chef_758 I’m a sucker for simple, easy-to-prepare pasta dishes that depend on an inspired combination of good, fresh ingredients.  The last revelation was from Diana Seed’s The Top 100 Pasta Sauces and involved, similar to this dish, a smoked fish (salmon) and heavy cream.  The way cream binds everything together and lends a richness to envelope the smokey-yet-fresh taste of the fish--to th...

Baja Fish Tacos

The best fried fish tacos we've ever had.

9th Jun 2006

Our own version culled from a few different recipes, an emulation of the classic recipe of homemade tortillas, lightly fried tempura-style fish, a dairy-based white sauce, and fresh, crunchy, gently spicy cabbage.

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Real Baja fish tacos are nothing like what you're used to eating when it comes to Mexican food.  In fact, true Mexican cuisine might be our biggest missed chance.  Satisfied...

Spinach Pasta with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce

18th May 2006

Library_4715 I came across a book at the Strand Bookstore some time ago called The Top 100 Pasta Sauces , and was intrigued.  Slapped on a cover was a gold circle that declared it had sold “Over 1 million copies,” and I felt a bit like I’d missed the boat, as this was an old used one that somebody was through with.  Flipping through it I found beautiful colored pencil sketches, which gave th...

Dear Mom: This is the Breakfast in Bed That We Would Have Made You for Mother''s Day if We Could Have Afforded the Plane Ticket

14th May 2006

P1010110 Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  We know we might not be lawyers, stock brokers, or those people that have "money" or whatever that's called.  But we can cook.  And had we been able to be with you today, and, had we awoken (most likely by you) at the absolutely absurd hour that you rise, this is what we would have done.  So, please.  Stay in bed, read some of that paper and enjoy a full menu dedi...

Mussels a la Portuguese, OR: "Hey man, that''s a lot of mussels." "Yeah, that''s what she said."

A chorizo-laden recipe deglazed with champagne

15th Apr 2006

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When’s the last time you went to a butcher or fish guy and ordered six pounds of anything?  “Hey, I was wondering if you can give me six pounds of salmon.”  “Sure thing, bub.  That’ll be a hundred and eight dollars.”  “Um, thanks.” With mussels, you can.  They're like $2.50 a pound.  Three of us devoured (and I mean devoured : mussels are a sensual, hands-on affair) two pounds each of thes...

Pan-Seared Salmon with Pasta and Spinach Cream Sauce

This pasta is surprisingly light, a delightful characteristic considering the richness of the cream.

9th Feb 2006

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While our enthusiasm for cooking has grown immensely over the past year, we still feel mostly reluctant to toss our recipe books aside and approach the task with our own original ideas and ingredients.  A sense of improvisation comes with confidence, and as the acting theorist Konstantin Stanislavski suggests, cultivating concentration and trusting one's instincts.  Instincts.  We don't do...