Every family has its own way with potatoes. Growing up, my mom would buy frozen potato latkes, heat them up in the toaster, and serve them with Mott’s apple sauce (you can hear all about it on my mom’s episode of Lunch Therapy). Most families, I’d venture, are mashed potato families. Some do it from a box, others from scratch.
Here at Chez Amateur Gourmet, we’re a roasted potato family. Specficially: pee-wee potatoes roasted with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sometimes with spices thrown in (smoked paprika, cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds).
When we think about one-pan cooking, we usually think about a dish where all of the components cook together in one pan at the same time. But there’s another kind of one-pan cooking! (Sorry for the exclamation mark, I was excited.) It’s the kind where you cook multiple components in the same pan one after the other and then assemble everything together on the plate at the end.
That’s what I did here when I made salmon for dinner the other night. You may be thinking: “Make the components one after the other? Don’t they get cold?” And I’d say to you: “Not really, they’ll stay warm. Stop worrying so much.”
Cooking seafood for a crowd has never been my forté. The first time that I did it, over ten years ago!, I futzed around with a River Cafe Cookbook recipe involving potatoes cooked along with mussels, shrimp, and fish in a tomatoey broth. It was not a hit. The next time, about seven years later, I hosted an indoor clambake and though that was tons of fun, the sausage didn’t really cook along with the fish so I ended up dumping raw sausage on the table along with all of the clams and corn. I had to have everyone help me pick out all the sausage so I could pop it on to a cookie sheet and finish it in the oven. Again, not a triumph.
But last night I cooked seafood for a few friends and it was my best go at it yet. The key? Simplicity!
It’s one thing to ask a friend for a recipe, it’s another thing to pilfer their signature dish. For the past few years, my friend Diana has dazzled dinner guests with her take on Suzanne Goin’s Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Yogurt; a recipe that you won’t find in any of Goin’s cookbooks but, rather weirdly, on the Hollywood Bowl website. It’s such a winning dinner party dish because you get to serve fish to any number of people without having to stress; the slow-cooking in the oven guarantees a moist interior and also ensures that all of the fillets will be done at the same time. Top it with a yogurt sauce amped up with toasted cumin seeds and preserved lemons (more on those in a moment) and you’ve got a dish so good, it’s worth stealing from a friend (sorry Diana).
If you were to do a graph–and I’m not a graph person, so you’d have to help me out here–measuring the effort you put into a dinner vs. the pleasure you get from eating it, chances are there’d be a real corollary between the work put it in and the pleasure received (see, for example, lamb merguez with eggplant jam). Every so often, though, there’s an outlier: a recipe that’s so incredibly easy, so simple to put together, it doesn’t make sense that the results should taste as good as they do, but they do. And I’d wager that of all the recipes that fit into this tiny category, the ones at the very apex of “easy to do” and “good to eat” are recipes involving mussels and clams.
My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.
Last week, I shot a little commercial for SAY Media here in my apartment and the food stylist (who ended up being my friend Brett) came with tons of ingredients and left many behind. Most significantly: a bag of shrimp.
On Saturday morning, I decided I wanted to put that shrimp to work along with a bag of very authentic grits that I picked up in Charleston, South Carolina. At first, I thought I might wing it, doing the fast technique that Chef Peter Dale taught me for my cookbook in Athens, GA (it’s a great combination of chorizo, shrimp, and arugula); but then I thought it might be fun to do a more traditional shrimp and grits, and since I was using Charleston grits I turned to the Lee Bros.