Posts by Cara

How to Make the Crispiest Fish (with Tabasco Compound Butter)

Crispiest Fish with Tabasco Butter | Big GIrls Small Kitchen

How do you make the crispiest fish–the kind your order at restaurants? And what do you put on that fish to preserve its simplicity but also make it exciting?

Those are the two pressing questions we’re answering in today’s post.

I’ve been searching for a couple years for a consistent way to make the best simple fish. I love a good fish stew, a pot of steamed mussels, a skillet of salmon roasted on greens. But to get crispy skin and a perfectly cooked interior on today’s fresh catch from Mermaid’s Garden without leaving delish detritus in the pan: that’s harder. I’ve tried cornmeal. I’ve tried dusting with Wondra flour. At last, I’ve settled on nothing but high heat, thanks to a tiny tip from one of this winter’s editions of Bon Appetit.

The kind of heat you need will probably make you uncomfortable. The pan will grow dark and brownish before you start. The oil will smoke. The fish will crackle loudly. You’ll have to open your windows and close your bedroom door. You’ll want to turn your fan around so it faces out, not in. But the cooking takes all of 5 minutes, after which the smoke will clear and the scent will diffuse, and you’ll sit down to perfectly cooked fish filets that have remarkably crispy skin and very juicy flesh.

And then what? You don’t want to sauce your fish with anything goopy, out of fear of softening that hard-earned crispy crust and diminishing the subtle flavor.

A compound butter is answer. Compound butter is just butter that’s been mixed with flavorings. You don’t need much of it to do a lot of seasoning work, so serve with a dollop. (But if you keep the bowl on the table, like we did, you’ll probably end up garnishing every bite with a new smear of butter, especially once your palate acclimates to the heat.)

Tabasco sauce–the original flavor–adds that heat, as well as the acidity that seafood craves. You use a big quantity of the hot sauce here: 3 tablespoons for the 1/2 cup of butter. Put in another tablespoon if you’re serious about heat. At first, when you sample the butter, you’ll think even 3 tablespoons was too much. But next to the crispy hot sear of the fish, you’ll find that hot butter is just what you want. The butter starts off solid but soon melts to become a balanced sauce, just the pairing your perfect filets were looking for.

If you’re wondering what’s below the fish, that’s the kind of hodgepodge I cook up on weeknights based on what’s in the fridge and pantry. For this one, I simmered about a cup of farro in salty water and sautéed sweet potatoes, onions, and kale in a skillet. I combined the two together and seasoned with some leftover shallot vinaigrette.

This post is sponsored by Tabasco as part of TABASCO® Tastemakers program. If you missed the first of the four Tabasco/BGSK recipes–Chipotle Pecans–get at it now. All opinions, as always, are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors who keep BGSK delicious!

How to Make a DIY Always Ready Picnic “Basket”

How to Make a DIY Picnic Basket | Big Girls Small Kitchen

You want to go to the park for a picnic or the beach for an early sandwich dinner. Eating outside is irresistible, so this desire is probably on repeat right now. But planning the meal takes more effort than daydreaming about how to source tomatoes for patafla. You need stuff: utensils, cups, drinks, bug spray.

That’s why I’ve always been tempted to own one of those fully loaded picnic baskets, the kind with patterned plastic plates and a built-in strap for your wine bottle. But given the changing seasons of the northeast, I know that such a possession would burden the clutter-free kitchen for three-quarters of the year. It’s easy to say no when there’s no space for storage and the snow is falling. It’s harder to say no when the sun is shining, even when you don’t want to overcrowd your closets.

Four Aperitifs to Drink Instead of Cocktails

Aperitifs | Big Girls Small Kitchen

If you want to mix me a Manhattan or stir me a Moscow Mule, I will never say no. But though I know I might be able to build a small kitchen-style minimalist liquor cabinet that yielded an impressively varied array of mixed drinks, I haven’t yet. Normally, I’m content to open a beer and then go make a mess in the kitchen instead of at the bar. Sometimes you just have to go with what obsesses you.

But I do love the premise of a drink before dinner, the sipping of something cold and a little bit sweet to put the day behind you and get your appetite ready for a meal. That thing just doesn’t have to be a cocktail.

So I thought I’d tell you about four aperitifs that you can pour straight from the bottle this summer. Each of these herb-infused liquors, most based off of wine, seem more special than wine or beer, yet they’re a whole lot less work than any cocktail. (All are great cocktail mixers, though, if we ever change our minds about mixing.) You can pour them right over ice. Or, if you want to do a little work, you can pour a half-inch of seltzer or champagne to make fizzes, and/or garnish with orange or lemon slices or rinds.

10 Delicious Foods That Should Be Taco Fillings

Baja Fried Fish Tacos | Big Girls Small Kitchen

This week, I interviewed Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos for my complete guide to tacos on First We Feast. At his Los Angeles taco truck, I learned, he changes the menu constantly, based on inspiration from what’s available or what he finds himself eating in his regular life. He told me he’s made tacos from leftover fideuà and from the Armenian sausages he buys in Glendale, his neighborhood. I loved how he talked about the creativity involved in translating his world into food, particularly tacos. Here’s how he puts it:

Wear what you dig. Cook what you like. If you like really spicy stuff, go for it. If you like exotic things, go for it. As far as you being the cook – professional or home – when you’re cooking something that comes from the heart…that’s when you can make something tasty. If you have good ingredients, and you can simply cook it, and not try to do some BS fusion crap you saw on TV but cook something you like, then you’re in the right direction.

As I so often do when I’ve been testing something for a piece, I ended up subsisting on tacos and leftover tacos materials for several days. I’m not sick of them. In fact, I’ve forgotten all about rice bowls and sandwiches, my usual vehicles for edible miscellany. Now, I want to wrap everything in a corn tortilla, just like Wes. Cooking what you like, right?! Here are 10 dishes from the archives I really like, which are suddenly begging for the taco treatment.

1. Chicken & Cauliflower YakitoriVegetables and chicken baked in a sweet soy sauce should come off the skewer and into your taco. Instead of salsa, drizzle on sriracha.

2. Manchurian CauliflowerThe Chinese-Indian favorite features crispy cauliflower in a sweet and tangy sauce. A dollop of yogurt would be welcome on top.

3. Paneer Bhurji. Paneer kind of reminds me of Mexican fresh cheese, and this dish evokes a spicy egg scramble, so maybe it belongs not just on any taco but on a breakfast taco.

4. Corn Pudding. Corn on corn! Add something crunchy to make the textures work, like pickled shallots or radishes.

Kitchen Stuff: The Handheld Mixer

Handheld Mixer

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

Over the weekend, we celebrated my mom’s birthday. While I zested lemon for the batter, my sister Kate tried to cream three-quarters of a stick of butter in a very old handheld mixer in my sister Jill’s kitchen. Once the cake (raspberry-swirled lemon cake with lemon cream cheese icing) was in the oven, we realized we’d had a really weird case of kitchen blindness. Jill has a stand mixer out on the counter.

The cake turned out great without the stand mixer’s super powers though. Handheld mixers are hardly as brawny, but they get the job done. And though stand mixers, particularly those in beautiful hues, make a generous housewarming present if you move into an actual house, when you’re cooking in a small apartment kitchen, they simply take up too much counter or cabinet space to justify their $400 price tag. That’s why, if you bake even a few times a year, I recommend directing your love to a much more accessible handheld mixer, one costs less than $40. You may have to beat your butter and eggs for a few extra seconds, and you’ll likely have to replace the mixer every four years when its motor peters out. But in the meantime, you won’t be put off by buttercreams or meringues–whether because you don’t own a mixer or because you don’t want to pull your heavy stand mixer out of storage.

(It should be noted, of course, that if you’re completely baking equipment phobic, you can always cream butter and whip cream with your spatula or whisk and your very strong arm.)

Here’s what you’ll make with your cheap and nimble handheld mixer:

Charmoula-Roasted Vegetables (with a Fried Egg)

Charmoula-Roasted Vegetables | Big Girls Small Kitchen

When you have documented, for anyone who would listen or read, that you’ll put a fried egg (or a handful of nuts) on top of anything, can you rescue this format (bowl of something + egg on top = B,L, or D) from the oblivion of those rando hodgepodge dishes meant to be eaten only in your own company?

Here’s one path to redemption: the fancy leftovers from a dinner party.

One of the only times I turn to actual recipes written by other people is when I’m hosting friends. It’s an odd habit, even a bad one. Dinner party rules say never to make a new recipes when eight hungry guests await the results, and they are probably right. I ran out of tin foil to cover the pans of the new-to-me fish, old-to-Paula Wolfert tagine, and the potato slices on top of the fish filets cooked so slowly that I dirtied an extra pot because it had a cover that kept the heat in better than tin foil. In the end, dinner was good (enough), and I didn’t breathe a word about the worrisome not-quite-soft potatoes to anyone at the table, a tenet from the rulebook that I do follow.

Anyway, the next day, I reheated the leftovers. Just the scraps from the pan–all the fish was gone. The charmoula–an ultra lemony Moroccan parsley marinade–had time in the oven to sink further into the vegetables and garbanzos that had cooked alongside the snapper filets, and as they roasted, they softened and grew tangy and tasty and flavorful. The potatoes, in particular, were way better than the night before.