Agricultural acts: grilled fish for six
Rockport — It's a sticky Friday afternoon when I meet with Devon Salisbury for the second installment of our local dinner series. Devon has fish in mind and we have a short discussion of the menu — accompaniments will include a salad with mixed lettuces and blueberries, new potatoes and onions. Devon said she had received a few skeptical reactions to cooking fish, mainly that it would be nearly impossible to keep a reasonable price point. We discuss the potential cost conflict but elect to precede as planned.
Devon's house balsamic vinaigrette
1/3 cup better olive oil
1/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of your preferred whole grain mustard. Devon uses Raye's mustard which is made in Maine.
2 cloves garlic — pressed or minced
salt and pepper to taste
"splash" Maine maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a jar or vessel of your choosing, shake or stir vigorously. Add scallions or chives if desired. This makes approximately 8 ounces and will keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Mustard caper dressing
3 to 4 tablespoons preferred mustard (we used Raye's whole grain dijon)
3 cloves minced garlic (less if desired)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons capers
1/3 cup good olive oil
Whisk all ingredients together with a fork. This can be made in a measuring cup with a pour spout for ease of use. This will produce enough dressing for 6-8 portions.
Grilled fish dinner
8 new potatoes, more if desired.
1 large sweet onion
1 1/2 to 2 pounds fresh fish cut into portions, we used haddock.
Portion fish by cutting with a sharp knife into desired number of portions. These should be about 6 ounces each. Slice potatoes to a width of 1/16 to 1/8 inch, slice onion into pieces about two inches long and fairly fine. Layer potatoes and onions on double layered aluminum foil, place fish portion on top. Drizzle with mustard caper dressing (about 1 teaspoon per portion) top with a pat of compound butter or room temperature butter smashed with minced garlic.Fold all edges of foil packet to secure, no liquid should be leaking out.
Grill over indirect heat 10-15 min depending on thickness of fish, ie: sole would be less time, halibut more.
Note from Devon: slicing the potatoes extra thin and spreading them out cuts down on the cooking time.
Toss rinsed mixed lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette, add blueberries and feta or blue cheese if desired. Dress lightly as individuals can always add more dressing to their salad portion if they wish.
After a few minutes contemplating which of several local farm stands we'll patronize to purchase veggies we decide to venture over to Beveridge Farm Stand on Turnpike Hill Road in Camden. The Beveridge family has been selling veggies grown on their farm — and a few other local farms — for nearly 20 years.
We survey the well-stocked roadside stand before select two boxes of new red potatoes, a pair of large sweet onions and a generous box of blueberries. We pay Mrs. Beveridge $12.25 for the goods. Blueberries, at $5.75 a box, are a bit of a splurge. Devon notes that other fruit can be easily substituted.
"Part of cooking is using what you have," she explained. "If it's strawberry season and you have a bunch of strawberries use them."
An apple or pear would be a similarly viable replacement, she noted.
We zip back to Rockport and make it to Graffam Bros. Seafood about 30 minutes before they close. The fish market is abuzz with customers surveying a large case stocked with fresh fish. Devon joins the deliberation and after a few moments she decides haddock — at $8.79 a pound — will be our best option. Rather than requesting a certain amount of fish Devon asks the young man behind the counter to show her a couple of fillets. She portions them out mentally, eyeballing the fish and thinking about the size of each piece. It's a bit of a Goldilocks scenario: the first one is too small, another is strangely shaped, the third is perfection. We buy two large fillets since we're feeding six adults. Devon grabs a jar of capers that we'll use (partially) in the dressing for the fish. Our total comes to $19.77.
Devon's dinner concept involves cooking the haddock with potatoes, onions, mustard caper dressing, and butter in foil packets on a charcoal grill. She said the ease of grill cooking can be appealing for families.
"If you're packing for camp you can put the foil packets together at home and pack them up in a cooler, it's easy," she explains.
We return to Devon's house and traipse across her lawn to harvest lettuce from one of her raised bed gardens. We each kneel on one side of the row and pick lettuce at random. When we've filled a large pan we carry it inside where Devon immediately rinses the leaves in cold water and sets them aside to air dry on a kitchen towel. I can't resist stealing a crisp leaf of what appears to be red romaine — the flavor of absolutely fresh vegetables (really) never gets old.
Devon begins making dressings, she works with such ease that it takes me a moment to realize she's actually doing something purposeful. I jump to my feet and begin quizzing her. One dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette for the salad, the other is a mustard caper dressing for the foil packets. Devon's balsamic is looking a lot like the one I make at home until she reveals her twist: a splash of Maine maple syrup.
Though Devon is an advocate of "good" olive oil, she's quick to say that she knows shelling out for a bottle of it isn't everyone's priority, and she fully understands. She said it's one thing every home cook should aspire to keep in their kitchen. Unlike many other products in the food and wine genre Devon said there is a simple formula for buying high quality olive oil.
"The more you spend the better it's going to taste," she explained with a laugh.
She slices the potatoes and one onion, cutting the potatoes into slices about 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick, she sets them aside in a bowl. She cuts the onion into slices about two inches long. After unwrapping the fish Devon cuts each large fillet into portions. She eyeballs them as she goes, but each is approximately 6 ounces. A sharp knife is essential in working with fresh fish, she notes.
She created the foil packets with double-layered foil, each layer is approximately 12-inches by 12-inches. Devon explained the double layer is crucial in the cooking process. She assembles each packet by layering onions and sliced potatoes. She places a fillet on top and finishes each packet with mustard caper dressing. She whips a roll of bright green garlic scape compound butter out of her freezer. She assures me we'll discuss making flavored butters in a future installment of this series. She cuts 1" slices of the compound butter from the roll and places one on top of each fillet before tightly closing the packets by rolling all edges.
We had extra onions and potatoes that Devon portioned individually and cooked as an extra side.
With the foil packets piled high on a tray we venture outside. Thanks to the powers of a lovely assistant the charcoal grill is already going strong. Devon loads the packets onto the grill snugly and gives them a final inspection before shutting the lid.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.