Take Me Fishing

by Elizabeth Winslow • Photography by Jenna Northcutt

When summer temperatures start to climb, we look for new ways to chill out. Popsicles and ice cream provide sweet relief, but what about lunch and dinner? Casting our nets wide for recipes that won’t heat up the kitchen, we discover a world of seafood dishes from Scandinavia to tropical Mexico that leave us cool and collected come the sultry sting of summer. Some might think that cooking fish is fussy or difficult, but they should think again. We checked in with local chefs Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo and Zack Northcutt of Swift’s Attic for tips and ideas to keep things easy and light. 

While Northcutt is a fan of the smoker, Chef de la Vega gravitates to dishes partially “cooked” with acidic citrus juices. Both cooks are happy to let the citrus notes take the lead when choosing beverages to serve with their recipes—try an albariño or txakoli from Spain or a frosty hefeweizen in a cold mug. Texas wine pairings, suggested by Terry Thompson-Anderson, accompany these recipes as well, and the recipes all can be adapted according to personal preferences and using what’s on hand. We plan to return to them again and again to help us survive the hot and humid months of summer. Elegant, easy and cool—get hooked!

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Ceviche

ceviche

by Iliana de la Vega and Isabel Torrealba

Ceviche needs little to no introduction, and it’s the perfect fresh and light dish for a warm day. But for those who’ve somehow managed to miss the joys of this amazing Latin American staple, ceviche is basically a dish made with semi-raw fish that’s been marinated or “cooked” in lime juice. It’s believed that this cooking method originated when the Manila Galleons (Spanish trading ships) introduced Mesoamerican indigenous cultures to citruses and onions.

To be fair, the fish in ceviche isn’t actually cooked, despite the term implying that some sort of heat has been applied. In this case, the fish changes to a whitish color as the acid in the juice elevates the pH of the meat—making it appear cooked. (In Peru, the combined lime and fish liquids are referred to as “tiger’s milk.”) To make a delicious and, let’s face it, safe-to-eat ceviche, fresh fish is an absolute must. Look for fish that doesn’t have a lot of bones so that it can be cut easily into small cubes, strips or thin slices (when in slices, it’s called tiradito.)

We recommend marinating the fish just minutes before serving, so that the freshness, flavor and texture can be enjoyed to the fullest, and it’s best to have all the other ingredients ready to go before preparing the ceviche. The essentials should include citrus juice (generally lime juice but orange, lemon or grapefruit juice works, too), onions, herbs such as cilantro or basil, dried or fresh chilies such as jalapeños or de árbol, and maybe some fruit—we like oranges, mangoes or pineapple. Go crazy! This is a good dish with which to get creative: At El Naranjo, we feature a different ceviche recipe every week.

To prepare the dish, place the fish cubes, strips or slices in a nonreactive dish made from stainless steel, glass or ceramic. Add some sea salt to break down the protein and mix well. Add the citrus juice and let the fish sit for a few seconds, or more if you prefer it more “cooked.” Add the remaining ingredients, mix and serve immediately with crisp corn tortilla chips. One slight variation of ceviche is coctel campechano—a cold, seafood cocktail appetizer, often served in a parfait glass, which can include shrimp, oyster, crab and octopus. Unlike ceviche though, most of the seafood in campechano is cooked and cooled before mixing and serving. Whichever version you choose, these dishes are cool, refreshing and perfect for warmer weather.

 

Smoke It

fish-smoke by Zack Northcutt

This recipe is one of my favorite summertime salads—light, refreshing, crisp and with fresh flavors. It’s a great seller at Swift’s Attic through the week and weekend, and brunch patrons enjoy it as a lighter option that’s still substantially filling. If you don’t have a smoker at home, a simple pan sear works best. Just cook fully, skin side down, to get it nice and crispy. Quality Seafood Market and Whole Foods Market usually have a great selection of fresh trout.