Let’s Cook: Giving Turkey the Bird
by Alison Boyd & William Sertl
Following the lead of their brethren in Plymouth, the folks who settled the East End gave turkey no more than equal billing at a Thanksgiving pageant cast with plenty of game, duck, and even lobster, supporting players that seldom get much credit these days. So say the culinary historians. So say we, crying “foul” at the idea of devoting too much energy to a pan-splattering gobbler this month—just because it is this month. It took the Pilgrims and Native Americans three days to polish off their celebratory feast; some modern cooks spend that much time simply prepping the holiday meal.
Not us. We’re dedicating the month of November to black bass, a local treasure that’s been around since Southold and Southampton pulled off the nifty trick of each becoming the first English town in New York. Thus, the first two Thanksgivings on Long Island were born. Maybe black bass was on the menu. Hopefully the settlers knew to pair its delicate texture and mild flavor with garlic and rosemary to add zing.
For the third key ingredient—a mellow Chardonnay or other dry white wine from one of our East End vineyards—they’d have to wait a few centuries.
The Kick-Off: Smoked Bluefish Paté
Smoked bluefish is a staple Out East, and it’s fun to turn it into an irresistible canapé that makes guests swoon after their first bites. “I’ll be on a diet forever,” they say. “It’s only bluefish,” you say. Of course there’s also cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo in the recipe. But not much, so don’t use any mutation labeled “lite” or “no-fat.” Like cold pizza and leftover Chinese noodles, this paté should be padlocked overnight. It’s awfully good on a toasted bagel the next day, though. (bluefish is available through Christmas; after that, substitute smoked mackerel or smoked trout; paté can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated)
½ cup cream cheese
1 Tbs sour cream
1 Tbs Holy Schmitt’s Homemade Horseradish
1 Tbs mayonnaise
8 oz smoked bluefish fillet, skin removed
3 Tbs lemon juice
½ tsp salt
4 oz smoked bluefish, finely flaked and reserved
In a food processor, blend cream cheese, sour cream, horseradish, and mayonnaise until smooth. Add filet of smoked fish and pulse until coarsely blended. Add lemon juice, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Transfer to a bowl and stir in reserved flaked fish. Serve on pumpernickel, sourdough toast, or crackers. Garnish with dill.
Pan Roasted Black Bass with White Wine and Rosemary
The season for black bass runs through December, but availability varies as baymen increasingly turn their attention to Peconic Bay scallops. Check with your fish market first before planning a menu or ask about ordering ahead. You can also substitute halibut, blackfish, or striped bass.
4 black bass fillets (about 8-12 ounces each), tiny bones removed
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and flattened with a heavy knife
large sprig of fresh rosemary
I cup dry white wine
3 Tbs unsalted butter
Salt bass on skin side. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy non-stick pan or skillet with a lid until very hot. Add bass filets skin side down and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until crisp. (Press down on the fish with a heavy spatula to prevent it from curling up as it hits the hot oil.) Remove fish to a large plate and turn the heat down to low. Add the additional tablespoon of olive oil, followed by garlic, and rosemary, heating for about one minute. Add wine, a little more salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Let bubble for a couple of minutes before adding 2 tbs butter. Return the fish to the pan, flesh side down, cover with a lid, and cook over low heat until just cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Place a bass filet, skin side down, on each serving plate. Discard the garlic and rosemary in the pan, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and simmer for 30 seconds. Spoon sauce over each fillet.
Cauliflower and Potato Braise
Steaming with minimal oil over very low heat is the key to blending the flavors of sweet onion and fragrant pepper—Aleppo pepper, that is, a just-hot-enough spice that’s easy to order from Kalustyan’s in Manhattan (kalustyans.com). If you don’t have it on hand, substitute black pepper and sweet Spanish Paprika. P.S. Always peel the potatoes so they absorb the oil and pepper well; you’ll be sorry if you cheat.
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
5 medium Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise and then cut crosswise into half-moon slices
1½ tsp Aleppo pepper flakes
1 small cauliflower, cut into small florets (about three cups)
Heat oil in a heavy non-stick or cast-iron pan, keeping it very low while cooking, Add potatoes to the warmed oil and cook for a few minutes, stirring and turning gently. Add onions and stir with the potatoes. Place a lid on the pan and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the vegetables are not sticking. (Add a sprinkle of salt now and then.) If the vegetables look dry, add a tablespoon of water. Remove the lid, add the additional tablespoon of oil, and blend in the Aleppo pepper (or black pepper and paprika).
Fold the cauliflower into the mixture and replace the lid. Continue cooking on low heat for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are still slightly firm but can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Test for seasoning and sprinkle on a little more salt. (dish is even better if made up to 6 hours ahead and gently reheated before serving).
North Fork Apple Crisp
Mix and match sweet (Jonagold, Cortland) and tart (Macoun, Gravenstein) favorites.
2 cups flour
I cup plus 4 Tbp unsalted butter, cubed
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup soft light brown sugar
½ cup rolled oats
Place flour, butter, and salt in a food processor and pulse until blended to the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. Place the mixture in a bowl and stir in the sugar, and rolled oats.
2 lbs apples, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs flour
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup hard cider (Woodside Orchard or Lieb Rumor Mill)
Place apples in a large bowl and toss with sugar, flour, and nutmeg. Stir in the cider.
Place apples in a shallow ovenproof baking dish and top with a ¾-inch layer of topping (freeze any excess for a future crisp). Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until mixture is bubbling and the top is browned. Let cool for at least an hour before serving with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Next Month: Ye Olde Boxing Day Dinner
It’s an upstairs-downstairs English thing on the day after Christmas. Lots of holiday tradition in the kitchen, not to mention a festive opportunity to mix with the help.
Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.