NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

2015 James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Announced

These Garden State culinary luminaries are nominees this year – including in two national categories:

For Outstanding Chef (in the U.S.): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

For Outstanding Baker (in the U.S.): Marie Jackson, The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

For Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Both Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton and Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood

Congrats & best wishes to them all!
Finalists will be announced on March 24 and the winners named on May 4.
Here’s the complete 2015 list of semifinalists in all categories.

Heads Up Martha Stewart Fans

clean-slate-cover_sq

She’ll be signing copies of her latest book, Clean Slate, on Thursday, February 26 at the Costco in Bridgewater. Ms. S. will be there at 2 pm but only for one hour, so good luck! For event info phone 732.584.1003.

Homemade Fish Curry from the Island of Mauritius (via Northern VA)

Do I hear you saying, “from where?” I explain the where, why, who, what and how below. (This post is excerpted from my In the Kitchen column in the 2/6/15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

Of the many important things in life that we have little or no control over, our children’s choice of mate has to rank right up there. So my husband Bill and I counted ourselves among the fortunate in this regard when our elder daughter, Alice, married Chris Le last year. He is all anyone could hope for in a son-in-law. But the bonus for me, a food writer, is that Chris hails from a food-obsessed family with an interesting and unusual cultural background.

Alice & Chris Le

Alice & Chris Le

Chris’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam after the war. In Northern Virginia he met his future wife, Marie-Ange So Ting Fong, who was born and raised on the island of Mauritius, which is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Situated off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is the only place on earth where the dodo lived. In 2010, the New York Times lauded the island’s “perfect year-round climate, talcum-soft sands, [and] crystalline waters.” This tropical paradise is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Languages spoken there include Mauritian Creole, French, and English, as well as several Asian tongues.

Chris and his two brothers were raised on dishes that span the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mauritian repertoire. While his father, Thanh, likes to grill and barbecue, the bulk of the cooking is done by his mother, Marie-Ange, and her mother, Josephine So Ting Fong, who lives with the family part of the year. This past Christmas Eve the Les graciously invited me and Bill to join their extended family for what turned out to be a veritable feast.

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

I lost count after 15 dishes had hit the table, among them dumplings, egg rolls, Vietnamese grilled beef skewers, noodle dishes, abalone, and pickled eggs. All were terrific, but there was one dish that I couldn’t stop eating: Mauritian fish curry. This turns out to be a deceptively straightforward combination of fried fish with onions, a couple of spices, and a splash of vinegar. It’s a curry in the broader Southeast Asian sense of something having been cooked in spices, which may or may not include curry.

Mauritian Fish Curry

Mauritian Fish Curry

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to google recipes for Mauritian fish curry. But the images and recipes that popped up were quite different from what I had enjoyed. The apparently more common version turns out to be a “wet” curry, with the fried fish bathed in sauce, often tomato based. The Les’ is a “dry” curry, its moisture derived mainly from the oil that the fish is fried in. So I asked Ms. Le and her mother for their recipe, which they kindly supplied. (As is typical in recipes handed down in families, no one had ever measured ingredients, let alone recorded it on paper.) The only constants among theirs and the other recipes are onions, garlic, and fish (usually white-fleshed) fried in vegetable or seed oil. Many include – besides the aforementioned tomatoes – fresh ginger, cilantro, and thyme. Some use curry leaves or curry powder, as well as cumin or garam masala.

The Le family recipe contains none of these. Instead, spoonfuls of saffron and mustard seed provide color and flavor. Ms. Le cautions, “I would suggest that you test the recipe and adjust the amounts according to your taste.” She also suggests using your personal favorite fish. For her, that’s thick fillets of boneless tilapia, although her mother prefers tilapia (or other fish) with bones intact, and her husband favors salmon.

The recipe below is straight from the Le family, with one deviation. Marie-Ange Le and her mother allow the uncooked fish, sprinkled heavily with salt, to sit at room temperature for four hours. (Other Mauritian recipes stipulate one hour.) This helps the fish to crisp up nicely and not fall apart in the pan. But food safety experts advise never to let raw seafood sit out at room temperature, so you can skip that step and either coat the fillets lightly with flour just before frying or simply follow your normal routine for frying fish fillets. The results won’t be the same, but still good.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

By the way: There’s another Tanner family wedding approaching. In October our other child, Elizabeth, will marry Ryan Ritterson. Bill and I can hardly believe that we’ve lucked out here, too. Ryan, like Chris, is all we could ask for to ensure our daughter’s happiness. His ancestry, though, is far less exotic. He’s from solid Midwestern stock. I promise not to hold that against him.

LE FAMILY MAURITIAN FISH CURRY
Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds thick fish fillets, such as tilapia or salmon, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying, such as peanut, soybean, or canola (not olive oil)
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon powdered saffron, or 12 strands (1 gram) saffron, crumbled
1-1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 white onions cut in quarters (or eighths, if large) and the slices pulled apart

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish. Salt the fish on both sides, to taste, and deep-fry the fish in oil as you normally do. Remove the fish and set aside, reserving the oil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the saffron with a little warm water.
  3. Heat one cup of the reserved oil and stir-fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the saffron mixture, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Combine and turn off the heat.
  4. Immediately add the mustard seed, then the fried fish and gently combine. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook only until the mixture is just heated through. (Make sure that you do not overheat the mixture at the end, or the mustard seed will turn bitter.)
  5. If the fish curry is too dry, add more of the reserved frying oil.

One response to “NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

  1. Pat, this is grand news about New Jersey chefs, and delightful waltzing through engagements, weddings and international feasts with you. I never cease to marvel at your intrepid ways in the kitchen!

    Happiness to all, and good luck always to NJ chefs!

    Carolyn

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