Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

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No Pots To Clean Gourmet Dinner

At our annual Cape Cod family vacation, I am responsible for serving the annual Fish Dinner for 10-15 people (there is also the annual Steak Dinner and the annual Lobster & Ribs Dinner, hosted by my brothers-in-law along with, The-Night-Everyone-Arrives-Baked-Ziti-Dinner my now 90-year-old mother-in-law whips up.)

Let’s be clear. Cooking for a very large group in an ill-equipped ‘cottage’ kitchen and serving it as a sit-down dinner in a too-small dining room is NO VACATION. It’s actually a potential nightmare. But it’s what we do. Every year. And once dinner’s on the table, it’s a blast… Plus, my wine-collector brother-in-law brings a LOT of wine so that’s, um, great. (I make sure to finish with all knife skills before imbibing – that’s another story that ends at the hospital).

Anyway, we’ve been doing this for years, but last Thursday I faced a fish dinner crisis: the only feasible date was our last night at the Cape – and we had to pack up our rental house and be on the road by 7:30 the next morning. I tried for a fish dinner hiatus. No dice (a huge compliment yet also frustrating). So I agreed to with one condition: I would cook but I would NOT host 12 people in the rental house that we were in the midst of packing up.

Once that was swiftly agreed upon, I had to devise a dinner plan. Usually my goal is a new variation on fish everyone will like. This year, my goal was: how to cook a full dinner for 12 with very little clean up. Like, none. Else we’d never finish packing and get out on time.

The answer: I devised a menu that required NO pots. Thus no clean up, and no ferrying pots, pans and serving utensils to and fro.

Amazingly, it was a huge success – both the cooking and the quick clean-up… but also, the dinner itself. There were actual accolades! My mother-in-law declared it, “your best fish dinner ever,” and someone dubbed it, “totally gourmet.” There were no leftovers and literally, we had NOTHING to clean up – all we had to do was load the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher. Oh, and the very many wine glasses.

The trick: a dinner plan that relied on heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill, sequential cook times, and ‘sauces’ prepared in advance.

Here’s what I prepared:

  • 2.5 pounds of Arctic Char and 1.5 pounds of Haddock that I prepped with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, slivered onions and halved cherry tomatoes: grilled in foil and served with two homemade sauces (really, dressings): Green Goddess and Mustard Vinaigrette.  I thought folks would enjoy trying two very different types of fish, which they did. And surprisingly, my favorite, Arctic Char, was the big winner! (See Lo-Co Recipe page for other fish/Arctic Char recipes!)
  • The fantastic “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious.
  • Asparagus we grilled in the afternoon and served at room temperature.

IMG_2695Cooking fish in foil on a grill is dead-easy. All you do is place a fish fillet in foil (skin-side down, if it has skin), slick it both sides with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs you like (I used chives, thyme and rosemary). Atop that, squeeze some lemons and place some very thinly sliced lemon along with very thinly sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes. The only truly ‘obligatory’ ingredient is olive oil and some lemon – but it makes a nice presentation with all these items! Then wrap it TIGHTLY in foil (I double wrapped it) and grill over medium-high or high heat for 10 minutes — longer if it’s a thick fillet. We needed 15-20 minutes for the 3 wrapped fillets. Take them off the grill and transfer to a serving platter – I removed the onion and lemon slices, but placed the tomatoes back on top for a pretty presentation. I like my fish plain but feared others would not, so I served the fish with choice of a Mustard Vinaigrette (David Tanis’ recipe on my Lo-Co Recipe page) and a Green Goddess dressing/dip mix from Penzey’s Spices that I had whipped up in minutes that morning.

The other element we needed to grill at my brother-in-law’s rental home was the phenomenal “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious. Read the recipe and reviews online, or recipe PDF is here and also on my Lo-Co Recipes page. These, my husband and I prepped in the afternoon, then brought over 11 packages all ready to go on the grill!  While they’re meant to be served individually I just opened all 11 packages into a large serving bowl – either way is great.  A few notes from my read of the reviews and my experience making this fabulous and fabulously easy recipe:

  • I used baby red potatoes that I washed and left skins on – and cut into small pieces (like eighths!) so they’d cook quickly enough.
  • Instead of white, I used red onions – again cut into very thin slices – about same size as potatoes.
  • Use heavy duty foil – there’s a size that’s the right width the recipe calls for. 
  • Move the packets every 5-7 minutes or so – maybe 3 times for the 30 minutes – but don’t flip them – goal is to move so that no one spot gets too hot and burns.
  • It’s very easy BUT takes time to cut the potatoes and onions – leave plenty of time for all the slicing!
  • Even if you hate mustard, you won’t taste it here… and if you LOVE mustard, you need to increase the amount used.

The whole dinner took 1 hour to cook at my brother-in-law’s rental home (though a few hours to prep — and we did grill asparagus (see below for how) at home first and served it room temperature.) 

Once we landed at my brother-in-law’s I prepped the fish while my husband grilled the potato packets. In the end, it looked like this:

IMG_2698

 

 

IMG_2697Two notes on the finished dishes:

  • The fish fell apart, which doesn’t happen when you bake or cook fish directly on the grill. But it’s juicy and tender, and if you have enough wine, no one will notice.
  • The potato & onion dish looked much more appealing than this photo; I’d had a few glasses of wine by then…

Hope you try!  So easy and healthy and delicious – and no pots to wash!

To grill asparagus: soak for 10 minutes and snap off the tough bottoms, loosely dry, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and put right onto a medium-high grill for about 10-15 minutes, rolling them to grill evenly.

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Grilled Orange and Bourbon Salmon

With a name like “Grilled Orange-and-Bourbon Salmon” how could I not try this Cooking Light recipe? And I’m glad I did; it’s terrific. In fact, I prepared this recipe several times this summer — with both salmon and Arctic Char, of course — to test it out for a Cape Cod family vacation dinner-for-16 (yes, cooking dinner for 16 in an only-ok-equipped rental cottage should not be part of anyone’s vacation – but somehow it is for me!)

Grilled Orange and Bourbon SalmonHere’s what’s great about this recipe: it’s easy to make in general and for a crowd, it’s flavorful, and is a healthy choice. All 16 at our family dinner liked it – believable because there was none left!

Here’s what’s not so great about this recipe: it takes a lot of time to prepare the marinade – especially if you are doubling or tripling the marinade. There are oranges and lemons to juice and scallions, chives and garlic to chop. That might not sound like a lot (and it’s not difficult), but trust me, you need 45 minutes to 1 hour to prep this marinade. Just letting you know.

You can easily print the PDF from my Going Lo-Co Recipes page or grab the PDF here: Grilled Orange-and-Bourbon Salmon.  Oh, and some of the Cooking Light reviews suggested saving the marinade and cooking it down into a glaze which is likely delicious, though I didn’t try it but plan to, next time.

Now if you’re like me and are more of a vodka and wine person versus a bourbon person (OK, truth, I know not one thing about bourbon) there’s the liquor store to visit. Where they might sell you Jack Daniels – which may or may not technically be bourbon. Sigh. Twice I made this recipe with Jack because that’s what my liquor store guy sold me – and then when I made it at Cape Cod, I made it with Jim Beam bourbon (I know that’s bourbon because it’s printed on the label, LOL). While I preferred it made with Jim Beam, that might just be because I’d had a lot of wine by the time I finished all the chopping for the triple version of this recipe!

Since this whisky vs bourbon thing was kind of a big part of my experience with this recipe, I was going to include information about whisky vs bourbon but all the sites I visited to learn the difference between bourbon and whisky require you to enter your birthdate, so that would likely lead to broken links. Topline, bourbon appears to be somewhat sweeter as legally it must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn (bourbon/whisky people, if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me!). If you care for more details than that, search for bourbon vs whisky and research away. If you don’t care but want to try this recipe, go to a liquor store and get a small bottle of Jack or Jim – they’ll both be fine!

As for fish, I liked this with both salmon and Arctic Char, so take your pick. But do try it – especially now with the summer winding down – making this recipe in September will give you the opportunity to swill a bit of warming bourbon while grilling!

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Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon

At the height of summer grilling season, you may be looking for an alternative to salmon. For those lucky enough to easily find it locally, Arctic char is my grilled fish of choice.

Actually, it’s my cook-at-home-all-year-round fish of choice for three reasons:

  • It is easy to cook and tastes great – it’s milder and creamier than salmon.
  • Those who like salmon will likely also like Arctic char. Even those who, like me, don’t care for salmon might like char!
  • It is far less expensive than wild-caught salmon (and you know farm-raised salmon is an eco no-no, right?)

I was stumped, recently, when a friend asked me what the difference was between Arctic char and salmon. While there was some conflicting (and largely old) information on the internet, I’ve gleaned a few key facts about Arctic char.

A member of the ‘salmonid’ family along with salmon and trout, char is a cold-water fish and nearly all of the US supply is farmed. However, the environmentally friendly method used to farm char is completely different than farmed salmon; indeed, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Seafood Selector gives char a “best” eco-rating and describes how char is sourced as follows:

  • “This member of the salmon family is an environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.
  • Char are mostly raised in tanks and raceways onshore, unlike salmon which are generally raised in open netpens in coastal waters.
  • Onshore systems discharge less pollution and are much less likely to let fish and parasites escape than netpens.”

As many likely know, the EDF cites Atlantic and farmed salmon as an eco-rating of WORST. If you are one of the many who avoid Atlantic or farmed salmon entirely and have a local source who carries Arctic char, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at both the taste and the price compared with wild salmon.

ArcticChar

Artwork credit: www.fishchoice.com

As for nutrition, I had a little difficulty with conflicting information: some websites claimed Arctic char is high in heart-healthy omega 3s but the EDF Seafood Selector does not give it the same high-rating in omega 3s as salmon. The best figure I came up with was to compare two articles on Dr. Andrew Weill’s site.  About char, he says, “a 3.5-ounce serving gives you one gram of omega-3 fatty acids and 182 calories.” That is about HALF that of wild salmon, when compared with another quote from Dr. Weil’s site: “A 3-ounce serving of Alaskan salmon or herring contains about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while 3 ounces of sardines has about 1.3 grams.” That said, I’ll take 1 gram of heart-heallty omega-3 with my protein over red meat any day.

As for taste, it happens that I far prefer char to salmon – though my husband likes both equally and finds them very similar. I agree with the broad description of mild flavor and delicate texture, and it tends to be less dense/chewy than salmon. Because of its high fat content (healthy fat!), it is easy to grill or bake without drying out – as long as you don’t over-cook it. I grill or bake it at 450 for about 12 minutes – see my Lo-Co Recipes page for a quick & easy recipe.

For more info on Arctic char, beyond the EDF and Dr. Weill’s sites, I found these resources most helpful (and likely most reliable):

  • The very interesting and informative Artic char page on the Fish Choice website was the most comprehensive and included a great ‘infographic’ which is where the illustration above is from. I wish that site had Omega-3 information as everything else was so clearly well documented on this site. This was also the only site that was updated in the past year or two!
  • The Arctic char page on both the Seafood Choices Alliance and the New England Aquarium sites explain how Arctic char live in the wild and how they are farmed.
  • The Chef’s Resources site – which was new to me, but I will visit again as it was very useful – confirmed the rough amount of omega-3 (though it cited 1.3 grams for 3 oz of fish) and other useful background and how-to-cook information about Arctic char.

You can substitute Arctic char for any recipe that calls for salmon or trout. I’m fortunate my local fish market always carries char;  if yours does too, throw some on the grill with a little olive-oil and herbs for a quick, delicious, heart-healthy meal.

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Moist Dry-Poached Chicken Breasts

Two weeks ago, things reached a new level of low when my good friend, cartoonist Chris Juneau, asked, “Do you EVER cook anymore or do you eat out every night?”  While that felt a tad unjust (Chris’ query was in reply to my dinner invitation! At a restaurant where we’d won a gift certificate at Chris’ charity fundraiser!!), in the end, she was right. I’d pretty much stopped cooking (and gained weight, but that’s another story).

And with that single snarky comment, I’d been shamed right back into the kitchen.

That week, I made my usual favorites: Baked Arctic Char with Baked Sweet Potatoes (recipes on Going Lo-Co Recipe page) and Mustard Roasted Fish (see my Mmm Mmm Mustard Roasted Fish post for info and recipe).

Then I switched things up by using salmon instead of arctic char and made them both again. Yes, that was sarcasm.  Yes arctic char and salmon taste nearly identical. Yes, at this point, my husband bought some steak and grilled it while I baked more fish.

Clearly I needed help.

So at 5:30 one evening the following week I went to a different market – one where fish is not their best offering – and peered at some nice looking chicken. The package was labeled “dry-rubbed, beer-seasoned (oxymoronic on two levels: crazy, right?) boneless chicken breast.” They looked and sounded great, so I grabbed them.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found a problem: no cooking directions. Oh, and also that’s when I remembered that I absolutely detest dry chicken breast. And here I was with what was already advertised as dry.

Sigh.

But now it was dinner time and I was hungry and it was too late to go buy some fish. I briefly considered tossing the chicken and dining out, but even I was sick of pizza. That and Chris’s wagging finger taunted me (okay, so that part wasn’t literally true, but it kind of felt that way. It doesn’t help that Chris is a great cook and gardener. If she wasn’t so smart and so very funny I’d hate her.)

So I hopped online to look for a way to make the damn chicken I’d bought – and make sure it would be easy – and tasty.  What I found was a new-to-me technique called “dry-poaching” (yes, oxymorons abound in this post). I decided to give it a whirl because of it’s oh-so appealing title: “How To Bake Chicken Breasts in the Oven: The Simplest, Easiest Method.”

And it was GOOD and EASY.

My husband and I very much enjoyed this dry-rubbed chicken which I dry-poached, served alongside some leftover sweet potato and a kale salad I’d purchased at the same market.

A PDF of the recipe is here:  Dry-Poached Chicken Recipe. Read TheKitchn recipe editor Emma Christensen’s post for excellent photos and directions.

To me, this method is easier than cutting parchment paper into heart shapes and crimping them shut which is recommended in most ‘en papillote’ method directions – which feels a fussy to me. Though that said, one en papillote recipe to try might be Rachael Ray’s Chicken In A Sack which doesn’t sound fancy or fussy at all!

Finally, one last kick in the butt – this one to myself from myself. It wasn’t until I penned this post that I remembered I have another great, easy way to make moist chicken in like 15 minutes: my countertop grill/panini maker. I’d completely forgotten about my panini maker because with my son in college now I’m not making breakfast paninis all the time (see Panini Magic for recipes.) So my panini maker is no longer on my counter and I’d totally forgotten about it.

So now I’m recommending two lo-co, home-cooked-chicken alternatives to dining out: pull out some parchment paper and try this dry-poaching recipe or grab your George Forman indoor grill and griddle up a nice chicken breast. If you toss a few sweet potatoes in the oven (they warm up well – make more for leftovers!) and pair the chicken and potatoes with some pre-made fresh kale salad (and wine) and it’s as good as dinner out.

And certainly healthier and more lo-co than most of my dining out options. Plus there’s the added benefit of no risk of snarky comments from friends!

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