Butterfish and land shark

Someday soon, I hope, my digital media empire will consist of the Curious Capitalist at Time.com, a site/blog (probably at this address) promoting my book, and a food blog produced with others (I’m talking about you, Gina). But I haven’t gotten around to making that happen yet. Which means this still doubles as a food blog, because I think posting recipes on my Time.com blog would be just too self-indulgent.

And since I cooked butterfish for the first time Friday night, it seems imperative that I share the experience here. I bought them from Captain Rick, who catches fish off the Hamptons and sells them at, among other places, the Friday Greenmarket on 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. He sold me six of the little things (for $4, I think) and told me to “lance” them. I took that to be a euphemism for cleaning them, which is itself a euphemism for pulling their guts and organs out. But it was an easy enough process with the little butterfish that I guess lance is as good a word for it as any. Anyway, here they are, post-lancing:


And here they are a couple minutes later frying in peanut oil:


Cooking them in a cast-iron skillet was a mistake. I figured it was the best alternative to teflon, which I don’t really like to use plus our one teflon pan is too small for six butterfish anyway. But the skins came right off the fish and bonded in a deep and lasting way with the cast iron. (I was able to get them off eventually, but it took a whole lotta scrubbing.) Here’s what the fish looked like afterwards:


The garnish was chopped garlic and ginger fried in a little peanut oil, to which I added some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce after the the frying was done. When I first tasted the fish in the pan I wondered if maybe the garnish was overkill, because the fish really did taste like butter. But after eating a couple of the things I wanted all the flavor I could get because eating plain butter is actually kind of boring. All in all it was a big success, except perhaps esthetically. Oh, and those fish have an awful lot of tiny bones.

Captain Rick also talked me into buying a couple pounds of sand shark filets. When I announced this at the P.S. 163 book sale down the sidewalk, somebody asked, “land shark?” The name stuck.

I kept the land-shark-prep pretty simple. I just rubbed some oil and salt and pepper on it, broiled it, then served it with anchovy butter. It’s really rich, and we could have done with far less fish for three adults and a kid. So on Sunday I made myself shark salad out of the leftovers. It was okay, but there’s a reason why you can’t buy cans of Wolverine of the Sea at the supermarket: Shark doesn’t make nearly as good a salad as tuna does.

Swiss chard pizza


This little slice, part of the amuse bouche, was actually the least flavorful element of a spectacular meal consumed at Telepan last night. But it was made with Swiss chard, and therefore deserving of mention.

The highlight of the evening? Maybe when the sommelier described the wine he was pouring with Allison’s foie gras (yes, we’re evil) as “the veal stock” of whatever varietal it happened to be.

But back to the chard. I think the message here is that things go best when the chard stands alone. Well, not alone. Sauteed onions help.

No chard or services were received in exchange for this post.

Swiss chard without bacon

One of the first posts in this blog was a recipe for Swiss chard cooked with bacon. The other day I noticed that it was actually getting some traffic from Google, so I searched on the phrase "Swiss chard bacon." My post was 9th in the list of results, just ahead of a recipe from Yahoo! Food.

Just now, though, I typed "Swiss chard" (sans bacon) into the Google search box. My post comes in 46th. Clearly, I’ve got some work in to do in my quest to become the world’s most trusted source of Swiss chard information.

Happily, I’ve got a new Swiss chard recipe to share, without bacon this time. The inspiration was a recipe in Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook, which I looked through down at the in-laws’ over Thanksgiving and I now want for Christmas. (Does Santa read blogs?)

We had a dinner party last night with a guest who eats no pork, so I decided it was time to try bacon-free chard. Remembering that Alice’s recipe included onions, chard, and not a whole lot else, I chopped up most of a yellow onion and cooked it in olive oil for a few minutes in a big frying pan. When the onion bits were soft but hadn’t yet begun to brown, I added a couple bunches of chopped-up chard. I cooked it briefly at medium heat, turning and stirring the chard regularly until the leaves were slightly wilted. Then I turned the heat down to low, covered the pan, and more or less forgot about it for an hour.

Before serving it I stirred in a tiny pinch of Maldon salt, on the assumption that all foods are improved by Maldon salt (there’s an article in a recent Food and Wine or Bon Appetit, also perused down at the in-laws’ and as best I can tell not available online, that recommends sprinkling the stuff on ice cream). But that may not have been necessary. The chard was meltingly tender and slightly sweet, its wonderful flavor no longer competing with the smoky bacon. This is, I think, the way Swiss chard is meant to be consumed.


I wrote a Curious Capitalist post about spinach last week. I didn’t have anything major to say, but I’d come across a cool blog post on the subject of the current spinach problems, and I wanted to write something that wasn’t about corporate governance. Plus, I really like spinach.

In the post I mentioned my favorite way of preparing the greatest of the leafy vegetables. So I was thinking that, in these spinach-deprived times, it might be nice to share the details. The recipe is originally from Cucina Fresca, by Viana la Place and Evan Kleiman, which I’m pretty sure is the first cookbook I ever owned. But I’ve made some elaborations and alterations.

You start with a nice dirty bunch of spinach (that is, not one of those precut, prewashed bags that carry E. Coli and don’t taste as good anyway). You wash it and wash it and wash it, remove the stems, then let it dry for a while. There’s no need to chop it up unless the leaves are really huge.

Then, in a nice big frying pan, you start cooking up some anchovy fillets in olive oil. The easiest way to do this is with anchovies in a tin–use an entire tin. But the best-tasting anchovies I’ve had come in Agostino Recca brand jars. Half a jar is about right for one spinach bunch.

Cook the anchovies over a pretty low flame with a few tablespoons of olive oil. As the filets start to disintegrate, add a couple of cloves of garlic. You can either chop them up or put them through a garlic press, I think this is one case where pressed garlic is actually better. Let this mixture simmer until the anchovies have disintegrated completely. Add more olive oil if the mixture starts looking a little crusty.

Now it’s time to put in the spinach. Turn the burner up to medium, then throw the spinach in. Keep flipping it and stirring it so it cooks evenly. Once it’s all wilted, you’re done. No need to cook it any longer. You can eat it right out of the pan, or at room temperature.

Meanwhile, until spinach is in back in stores, try swiss chard.

The efficient market in West Village restaurants

When we lived in London in 2000 and 2001, it took a while for us to figure out how to find good restaurants. The London Zagat guide was alarmingly unreliable. Just looking in the window wasn’t much help, either. Great-looking, packed restaurants often served near-inedible food. Finally we bought a copy of the Time Out Guide to Eating and Drinking — whether it was recommended to us or we just happened upon it in a bookstore, I don’t know — and our lives were transformed. If the Time Out Guide said a restaurant was good, it was good. (Later we found the Guide Michelin to be equally reliable, but mainly just for higher end fare.)

fatty crabForward to earlier this week, when we went out for dinner in the West Village two nights in a row (the Boy was with his grandparents). First we ate at Fatty Crab, a cool-looking cubbyhole of a Malaysian restaurant on Hudson Street. We got there so early that there was no wait for a table, but that soon changed. (See the photo at left for how things looked outside the restaurant when we left.) And the food was transformatively good, if artery-hardening (the fatty duck and the pork rind and pickled watermelon salad were highlights). The waiter was wonderful, and talked us into getting a bottle of Pinot Auxerrois that matched our meal perfectly. In other words, the crowds were a good indicator of quality. Fatty Crab has also gotten gushing reviews, too, so it’s not really a case of crowds vs. experts. But still, let’s give New Yorkers some credit here.

The next night we tried the Spotted Pig on Greenwich Street, which has also gotten lots of positive press, plus a Michelin star. We didn’t get there until around 7, and were told the wait would be an hour. So we left and headed over to Greenwich Avenue to a restaurant called Good, which Time Out New York had said was “closer to great.” No wait there. After sitting down in the mostly empty room we realized it was the same space that once housed Campo, a vaguely South American restaurant that really was close to great. It turns out Good is owned and run by the same guy who ran Campo, Steven Picker, but on the evidence of our meal everything but the mixed drinks is at best mediocre, and the service clueless. This time the experts said go (a brief search turned up one other positive review), but the lack of crowds was the better indicator of quality.

Molly the catSo what’s the point of all this other than to snidely imply that New Yorkers are more culinarily sophisticated than Londoners? Just that the answer to the great question of whether crowds or expert individuals know best is it depends. The experts at London’s Time Out were clearly better at discerning quality than the mass of Londoners, but in New York the crowds agreed with or outdid the critics — or maybe just noticed a decline in quality that had yet to set in the last time the critics visited Good. It’s also possible that the real point is that while restaurant-hopping in the West Village I took a photo of that (Anglophile) store where the cat named Molly got stuck inside the wall, and wanted an excuse to post it.

Swiss chard!

Well, I promised fine food in my blog description. So here’s how I prepared the Swiss chard we ate for lunch today:

2 or 3 slices of bacon,  chopped into small pieces. (I swear by Schaller & Weber‘s smoked—not double smoked—bacon, which if you live in NYC you can order from Fresh Direct.)
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and loosely chopped

Cook the bacon in a skillet at medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the onion, cook another 5 minutes or so. Turn up heat to medium, add chard, toss/stir for a couple minutes, until it’s slightly wilted. Turn the heat to low, cover the skillet, and let simmer for about half an hour.

I had done similar preparations of kale and collard greens before, and they’re okay. But I tried it with chard for the first time a month ago and it was a revelation: The slightly sweet chard and the salty bacon were perfect together. Not that I was the first person to think of this, of course.