Shopping the Farmers Market: Why Blog

After years of frequenting the farmers markets in NYC, but only buying a few supplemental ingredients here or there, I decided to be experimental and work dishes around what is in season or looks particularly mouthwatering at the market that day. Green seems to be the buzz word these days from NYC to the White House, and the eat local movement is in full swing. My attempt here is to buy as many ingredients as possible from a the farmers market, and then occasionally supplement with locally produced ingredients from chain markets around the city. Most of the recipes I post (except for the baking recipes) are either things I created myself, or variations on recipes I've found elsewhere. I hope that you take the recipes and shopping tips here and they inspire you to do your own local cooking.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spicy Fish With Tomatillo Sauce

This is the continuation of the last post when I went to the Union Square farmers market. I was super ambitious on Friday and cooked two full meals, the udon noodle meal for lunch, and a fish dish for dinner.

When I arrived at the farmers market on Friday I thought I was going to make the udon noodle dish, but I was also planning on making a mushroom crostini. However, the problem with the farmers market is that you never know what produce is going to look good, or even be there, once you arrive.

On Friday I wasn't so crazy about the mushroom selection, and as I was walking around I spotted some wonderful looking green and purple tomatillos. For those of you who don't know, tomatillos (which are often referred to in Mexico as green tomatoes) are actually closely related to the gooseberry. Like the gooseberry, they grow wrapped in a thin husk. Used in a lot of Mexican cooking, the small fruit is denser and tarter than a tomato, but I love the flavor in sauces and salsas. I started cooking with them a few years ago when I was making a Rachel Ray recipe from her original 30 minute meals cookbook. I usually don't like her, but I feel like she had a few real gems in the first couple of books she did. The recipe I make today will be a variation on that original recipe.

I picked up about 8 or 10 tomatillos for a couple of dollars. That's the other nice thing about them, they're much cheaper than tomatoes. Next, I headed over to a large table filled with peppers. I have to admit the variety was so great I felt a little overwhelmed. I was looking for a pepper with medium - hot heat. I was choosing between two types of jalapenos and a Serrano. If you like a lot of spice, I'd say go with the Serrano. I ended up choosing between the two jalapenos since I like spice, but didn't want it to be too spicy. At the last minute I decided on the milder pepper, which in retrospect, I felt was a mistake. The final dish could have definitely used a bit more heat.

Lastly, I headed over to the fishmonger. After a couple of weeks ago when I tried to get scallops at the Boro Hall market, and was disappointed to discover the market didn't have a fish stand, I definitely wanted to buy my fish at the market. The original dish called for tilapia, a mild white fish that takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking it in. There was no tilapia at the market today, so I chose to go with a summer flounder at $12.99/lb instead. It's a little pricier than tilapia, but flounder is also a mild white fish, so it was a perfect substitution. I got 2 fillets which ran me about $7, and was enough for 2 people. I'll mention that the fish table was also one of the most crowded tables at the market on Friday.

I had purchased a red onion and the garlic for the udon dish, and used them for this dish as well.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
2 flounder fillets
1 jalapeno pepper
8 tomatillos
1 red onion
1 head of garlic

At a market:
1 lime
1 bottle of pale beer

Supplementary ingredients I had at home:
Olive oil
Sweet Paprika
Cilantro (purchased from a past farmers market)

Before I start the recipe I'll mention that I had run out of cumin and had to purchase some on my way home. Cumin, a typical Indian spice can usually be found in most supermarkets, but can be found for a much cheaper price at ethnic spice stores around the city. I get mine at Dual Specialty Store, Inc., an Indian market on 2nd Ave. between E. 5th and E. 6th Streets. I started going there because it was literally a half block away from my old apartment in Manhattan, but it's definitely one of the best places in Manhattan to find obscure spices. If a recipe calls for it, it's probably there.

Recipe: Pan Fried Flounder in a Tomatillo Sauce

2 flounder fillets
Coarse salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 tsp of ground cumin
1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
2 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil
1 lime halved
1/2 medium red onion chopped
1 jalapeno or Serrano seeded and finely chopped
2 -3 large cloves of garlic minced
8-10 tomatillos, husks peeled, diced
1/2 bottle of pale beer (I used a bottle from my local bodega called Lighthouse Ale)
2 TBSP of chopped cilantro

Mix the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika in a bowl. Rub the fish with the spice mixture. This should be a thin, even coating.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, 1 turn of the pan. Saute fish 3 minutes on each side or until opaque. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime over the fish, and carefully slide the fillets onto a plate.

Return the pan to medium/high heat and add remaining tablespoon of oil, 1 turn of the pan. Quickly saute the red onion, jalapeno/Serrano and the garlic. Saute a minute or so, add the diced tomatillos with seeds and juices. Season mixture with coarse salt and saute the mixture of vegetables 5 minutes.

Add the beer and the juice of 1/2 lime and cilantro to the pan. Simmer sauce 5 minutes longer, then spoon hot sauce down over the fish filets. Garnish platter with a few extra sprigs of the cilantro.

Sometimes I serve this dish with avocados. The smooth meatiness of the avocados adds a nice contrast to the spiciness of the pepper and cumin. Cut avocados in 1/2 lengthwise and remove pits. Squeeze lime juice over the avocados to keep them from browning and season them with a little coarse salt. Arrange on the serving plate.

I liked this dish quite a bit. My friend Sarah helped me cook, and we both agreed it turned out quite well. I made enough sauce that I had leftovers. This was great, because it enabled me to use it on a 2nd dish for lunch the next day. I rubbed some raw shrimp in the same cumin/paprika mixture that I put on the flounder, then sauteed them for 2 minutes in the pan.

Once they were opaque, I threw in some of the tomatillo sauce and cooked it for another minute until the sauce was warmed through. I served this over a bed of white rice, which proved to be a quick and hearty lunch that could have easily been brown bagged to the office.

On another note, I went to the Carroll Gardens farmers market this morning. It was small, but had a nice selection of vendors. I grabbed some heirloom tomatoes, basil, bread, and cheese, and had a great lunch. I also stopped by a table offering samples of duck meat. I love when vendors do this, I don't know if I would have thought about cooking with duck on my own, but once I tasted the sweet meat, it had me dreaming of lots of different things I could do with it...possibly for another day.

Welcome to August everyone, the summer is flying by.

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