Sustainable Seafood Cooking Demo for Andersonville Green Week – Recipes

This Wednesday July 13, I’ll be Joining Brooke Havlik from the Shedd Aquarium at the Andersonville Farmer’s Market for a cooking demonstration on the topic of sustainable seafood. This has been a bit of a marathon the last two weeks as I have done demonstrations at the Taste of Chicago and Green City Market. Even though they are a lot of work getting recipes and mise en place together, cooking demonstrations are very important to me because it makes me happy to think that I might inspire people to cook at home more often.

There are a lot of restaurants out there at every price point and quality distinction, but the most economical (and greenest) way to eat is to cook at home from fresh local market ingredients. It’s the most sustainable way. Take it from someone who’s been in the industry 25 years, the truth about the restaurant industry is that most of these institutions are phenomenally destructive when the field, farm, or ocean to plate process is evaluated. From the industrial monocultures & concentrated animal feeding operations to the rapacious ocean trawlers supported by those operators in pursuit of ever cheaper price, the potential consequences of the restaurant industry continuing its present path are mammoth.

One of the reasons I opened Big Jones was that while I love hospitality and the restaurant industry, I wanted to check out of the industry status quo and do things differently. Besides our walk-the-talk approach to local, humane, sustainable, and organic food sourcing ethics, we were ultimately driven to be audited by the Green Restaurant Association to learn both what we are doing right but more importantly what we could do better. In our first year after instituting changes under the GRA’s direction, we’ve saved thousands of dollars in energy costs among other improvements.

I hope you will consider cooking at home more often. It makes for a great home life, and by shopping locally and talking to your fishmongers, butchers, and going to farmer’s markets, you can know more about where your food comes from and have the power to make greater environmental choices. Of course, I hope you’ll continue to dine out too, but the more you cook at home the more power you’ll have to choose quality over quantity when you do eat out. When you’re eating out less often, price becomes a bit less of a concern and you’ll be better able to support the restaurants that are buying locally, seasonally, and humanely.

This is going to be a fun demo – char-grilled oysters, pan-fried whitefish with creamy polenta, and Cajun barbequed shrimp. While at Big Jones we use Anson Mills’ certified organic hominy grits with fish, I want to show you a recipe with ingredients you can source readily, so we’ll be using Three Sister’s Garden corn to make polenta since it’s easily available locally. As we go along, Brooke Havlik will discuss seafood sustainability. You’ll leave the demo with the power to make informed decisions when shopping for seafood or dining out, and eat as delicious as ever.

Char-grilled Oysters with Creole Mignionette

For the mignionette:

  • 2 ounces red wine vinegar
  • 2 ounces Louisiana-style hot sauce
  • 2 ounces shallots, minced
  • 2 ounces Worcestershire sauce

For the grill:

  • 24 oysters, shucked, liquor reserved
  • 8 ounces butter, cut into small bits
  • 8 Tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 8 ounces migionette
  • 4 ounces grated hard cheese, such as pecorino or parmesan (a great local choice is Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which we use at Big Jones)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Use charcoal, hardwood, or gas, but prepare your grill for charring as you would to cook steaks, meaning hot, red coals. In the meantime, shuck your oysters, reserve the liquor, and evenly distribute your butter and bread crumbs over the oysters, and place them on the grill directly over the hot coals. Try to keep the oyster cups upright to better maintain the liquor and butter as it melts. Evenly distribute the mignionette and cheese over the oysters. Salt and pepper to taste. Oysters are done when hot and bubbling. Serve at once.

Pan-fried Whitefish with Creamy Polenta and Vinegar Slaw

Vinegar Slaw

  • 2 cups very finely sliced cabbage
  • 2 cups very finely shredded kohlrabi
  • 1 bunch green onion tops, very thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 cup strong vinegar, such as cider or sherry
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • a few red pepper flakes, or minced hot pepper

Toss all ingredients to combine, and refrigerate about one hour before serving.

Creamy Polenta:

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 ounces, or 1/2 stick, butter

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring milk to a boil, whisking often. At first boil, add cornmeal and whisk vigorously. Return to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Whisk constantly until thickened. Cook another few minutes until thick and all grains of corn are cooked. Season with salt and cayenne. Whisk in butter and serve at once.

Pan-fried Whitefish

  • One whitefish, about 2-3 pounds, or a pound or so whitefish filets, cut into 3″ portions
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 ounces hot sauce
  • 2 cups finely ground cornmeal
  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • vegetable oil, for frying

In a 9 or 10 inch iron skillet, heat 1/2″ vegetable oil to 350 degrees. In the meantime, marinate the fish filets in the buttermilk and hot sauce for a few minutes while you mix the dredge. Combine all the dry ingredients and use it to thoroughly dredge the fish filets. Over medium heat, carefully lay the filets into the hot oil and fry, depending on the thickness, 3-4 minutes on the first side and 2-3 minutes on the second. You’re looking for a light golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels for a couple minutes before serving. Serve with vinegar slaw and creamy polenta.

Cajun Barbecued Shrimp

  • 2 pounds jumbo (u/10) head-on American shrimp
  • 1 stick, or 1/2 cup, butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Spanish paprika
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons (or more, to taste) Louisiana-style hot sauce
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 8 ounces fresh cream
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Thaw shrimp and rinse thoroughly under cold running water and set aside. Melt butter in a large saute pan until foaming, then add garlic and onion and saute to sweat. Add paprika, herbs, Worcestershire, and hot sauce and bring to a boil. Mix cornstarch with lemon juice and add to saute, mixing in thoroughly. Stir in cream and return to a boil. Reduce until thick enough to coat a spoon. Add sprig of rosemary and cleaned shrimp. Cook, tossing constantly, until shrimp are cooked through, opaque, and thickly coated with sauce. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once with crusty bread.