A brief statement of purpose

There are already about a billion food blogs, so what might be a justification of yet another one, and who am I to do it?

What I aim to do in this blog is more than simply provide recipes. While recipes of my own will, in fact, be posted, some of the blog will consist of a variety of comments about restaurants and their practices, food preparation tips, personal annoyances (such as loud restaurants and the epidemic of misspellings on menus), and whatever else pops into my head relating to what we put in our mouths (and swallow, I hasten to add). The whole thing is meant to be somewhat provocative. I hope, if nothing else, it won't be boring. I, of course, solicit reader participation.

As for who I am and why I think I might have something to contribute to public discussions on this essential and pleasurable activity - eating - you'll have to click here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tuna in grape leaves with anchovy sauce

  This is a combination and variation of a recipe I saved from a 1988 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and of a restaurant preparation I had about ten or fifteen years ago. The Bon Appetit recipe involved wrapping chard leaves around tuna. The restaurant was a Mediterranean-themed venue called Spazzo in Bellevue, a Seattle suburb. I don’t think the fish was tuna, but it was wrapped with grape leaves and, if I recall correctly, flamed with ouzo. So I decided to meld parts of each recipe and add a couple of twists of my own. I thought the result might be at least slightly unusual this side of Italy or Greece. Then I did a search on the web for “fish wrapped in grape leaves”. So much for even slightly unusual. There are about a billion such recipes. Maybe a trillion.
   There are two potential pitfalls in preparing this dish. One is to avoid burning the hell out of the grape leaves, and the other is determining when the fish is done since it’s covered with the leaves. As most people know, overcooking tuna turns the fish rather tough and much less appetizing. So how to avoid these difficulties? In short, watching it carefully and violating its corporeal integrity by cutting into it to observe its state of doneness. Something else I suggest is searing the first side over fairly high heat, then turning the fish and reducing the heat to medium or medium low. 
   As for the type of tuna you see in the photo, to be honest, I don’t recall with any certainty, but I think it was albacore. Not sure. I know it wasn’t “chicken of the sea”, though. The vegetable accompaniment is thinly sliced small potatoes, yellow squash, and carrots, sautéed. 
   Getting the leaves out of the jar is a pain in the derrière. I always manage to destroy some of them in the process of prying them out. No great loss, though, since I never need so many, even when I make domades. Still, I’m mounting a nationwide campaign to pressure the producers to not pack as many in the jars. Are you with me? No violence, please.
   Try to find sumac and/or ajwain. Both add a certain je ne sais quoi to the preparation. If your search is unsuccessful, use dried thyme instead.
Tuna steaks, 2, 6 oz or so each
A container of grape leaves in brine
Sumac, 1-2 tsp 
Ajwain, 1-2 tsp   or
     Dried thyme, 1-2 tsp
Olive oil, 1 Tbs
Lemon or lime juice
Olive oil, 6 Tbs
Shallots, 2, minced
Garlic, 1-2 tsp, minced
Anchovy fillets, as many as you like, minced or reduced to a paste
Lemon or lime juice, 3 Tbs
Capers, preferably packed in salt; in brine is acceptable, but rinse in both cases.
Ground pepper
Remove the grape leaves from the bottle, keep (for two tuna steaks) ten or so of the larger ones, and dry them. Yes, you will waste the rest of them unless you make domades or something else requiring grape leaves. So what? If our consumer habits in this country didn’t involve a huge amount of waste, our economy would be in even worse shape. 
Scatter the sumac-ajwain (or thyme) mixture on both sides of the tuna. Now wrap the tuna steaks in the leaves, securing with toothpicks on the sides. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet or a skillet on which you’ve sprayed some non-stick stuff. On high heat, sear one side of the steaks, then lower the heat to medium or medium low. In a couple of minutes, cut discreetly through one of the steaks to test doneness. This will not take long at all. When there’s still some pink, squeeze the lemon or lime juice over them and add some salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat. 
In the same pan, add the 6 tablespoons of olive oil, and sauté the shallots, garlic, and anchovies for a couple of minutes. Squeeze the lemon or lime juice into the pan. 
Put the steaks on plates, pour over the shallot-anchovy sauce, and scatter the capers about. Garnish with parsley if you like. Don’t eat the toothpicks.

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