I’ve been fortunate to give paleo demos at our local Whole Foods Market in Lafayette a few times over the last couple of months. And today’s recipe is the next one I’ll be demonstrating. This time around we’re having it in the wine bar, so attendees will be able to enjoy a lovely beverage while I cook. And. Harris is bringing his keyboard and amp and will play original music as well as a some jazz standards. I imagine a few heads will pop through the swinging doors to find out what’s going on. It should be so much fun!
The last demo I did was as a paleo iron chef. Pens and paper in hand, each person toured the store in search of five paleo ingredients that really appealed, right that moment. It was fascinating to see what items were chosen. I then took one of the lists, gathered those foods and cooked them up on the spot. I had a blast and the group really liked the dish: halibut with mushrooms, potato, onion and ginger. I used my favorite combination of Japanese flavors, and in under 20 minutes, had a full meal prepared.
In these modern times, most of us don’t hunt and gather the way our ancestors did. Though it would certainly be possible here in Acadiana. From gulf and fresh water seafood, to forests teaming with game, wild berries, roots and shoots, a hunter/gatherer time traveling to rural Louisiana would not go hungry.
I was thinking about paleo in the current age, and the fact that Europeans are more inclined to follow this foraging tradition. Most every population center has a market with fresh produce, meats and fish. And one can stroll through the market, be tempted by luscious fruit or beautiful vegetables and start the evening meal with the selection of that ingredient. Instead of beginning with a recipe and working with what’s available, Italian cooks in particular, find a beautiful eggplant or sparkling piece of fish and build a dish around it.
Americans should try this more. Instead of loading up the fridge one day a week and being confined by those purchases, Europeans have tiny refrigerators and shop several times a week. How do you know on Saturday what you want to eat on Tuesday? And how many of us have shopped heavily, looked in the fridge on Wednesday, shut the door, uninspired, and then picked up the phone for takeout? It would be nice to think that every restaurant takeaway was a combination of great meats and vegetables, cooked in healthy fats and not loaded with chemicals and preservatives, but let’s face it: restaurants, like any business, are most of all interested in the bottom line. Ingredients are selected for profitability first, quality second. If the profits suffer, the ingredient quality goes down to make up the difference. Only you are interested in your health and the well-being of your family, and you shop, as best as possible, to that end. Great ingredients mean delicious results, even with simple techniques. It’s cost effective, too. Cheap takeout might seem like a bargain, but take a close look at what you’re really getting.
You can cook quick, delicious meals that are modestly priced. At Whole Foods, for example, if you crave a burger and you’re dining alone, you can buy 5-6 ounces of pastured ground beef. No waste. No leftovers. Or you can get two links of sausage, a single chicken leg, one potato, a handful of green beans. Most supermarkets do not give you that option. You’ve got to buy a pound of this, a package of six of that. If you’re dining according to your specific tastes at the moment, you’re more likely to cook good foods for yourself, and save money, too.
One thing I noticed in the lists that people at the demo had in common was that every single one featured seafood. So for my next demo I decided to make a fish dish that I’ve always dearly loved: cioppino. It’s an Italian specialty that became a San Francisco favorite. Fisherman off the coast of California would start the base of the dish and as it was time to eat, they’d chop up fish from their catch and add it to the sauce. Often cioppino tastes like tomato/vegetable soup with fish in it. I prefer the method used by the Tadich Grill in San Francisco: the base and fish are made separately so the fish is not overcooked, then the two are combined just before serving.
So of course, I wanted to make a paleo version and I wanted to bring it home to the Gulf Coast. The Tadich Grill dredges their seafood in flour, and while I’ve made it that way in the distant past, I actually prefer it sans thickening. And I like more emphasis on the seafood and less on the tomato broth. You can use whatever seafood is freshest and local to you. Virtually any type of fish will be delicious. The tomato sauce can be made ahead, so you can serve this recipe for a dinner party without stressing over last minute prep, except for the seafood. You can freeze the sauce in individual servings, pick up a bit of a seafood after work, and have the most delectable weekday meal imaginable in less than 15 minutes.
One of the “secret” ingredients in this dish is a ghee that I make with the Cajun/Creole trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) plus garlic. The vegetables are added to the butter.
Cooked in a 250 degree F. oven for 2 1/2-3 hours.
And strained. Did you know that ghee is non-dairy? That’s because all the milk solids are removed. Did you know that making your own ghee is cheap? For just the cost of a pound of unsalted butter, you can have one of the most wonderful cooking ingredients ever devised. If you’re pressed for time and don’t want to chop a bunch of vegetables for a quick sauté, or want to perfume the house with delicious aromas and infuse your fish, chicken, meat or vegetables with instant, awesome flavor, this is for you.
Another eclectic mix is in the playlist this week, including a tune by Mackenzie Bourg, who seems to be heading for the American Idol finale. Could the last American Idol be a hometown boy?