Portuguese Mussels

This is our favorite mussel dish. I guess we call it Portuguese because it mixes mussels, chorizo (or linguiça) and cilantro and this is thought of as a Portuguese combination.  We usually serve it with pasta although it’s good on its own and the sauce even without the mussels is so delicious that we’ve been known to serve it with pasta when no mussels are available. Here in France we get moules de Bouchot in the summer – they are small but the shells are completely filled so that a pound or two goes a long way. Make sure your mussels are fresh – no cracked or broken shells nor ones that don’t close up when you tap them. We steam the mussels separately in white or rosé wine and then either shell them and add them to the sauce or, better still, mix the sauce with the pasta and bring the steamed pot of mussels to the table so that your guests can shell them themselves and add them to their bowl of pasta.  It seems a pity to cook the mussels in the delicious sauce –  too much of it is lost to the shells. Either way, this dish is a winner.

Serves 4


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped fine

1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly into 1″ pieces

1 large clove garlic, chopped fine

2 oz. dried chorizo, preferably hot, sliced into 1/4″ rounds

2-3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1-14 oz. can, chopped

1/2 cup white or rosé wine

2 lbs. mussels

Pinch of cayenne or piment d’Espelette

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Cook the onion in the olive oil over low heat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, five minutes.  Add the sliced pepper and continue cooking another 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, chorizo, and tomatoes and cook until the sauce has thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes. If it gets too dry, add a little water or wine. If the chorizo is not hot, you will want to add a good pinch of cayenne or piment d’Espelette –  the sauce should be spicy.

Meanwhile, debeard the mussels (if you need to) and steam them until they just open, 3-4 minutes.  If they are very large mussels, they may take longer. Strain the liquid into the tomato sauce and let it bubble and reduce for a few minutes.

If you are going to serve the mussels with pasta (spaghetti or linguine are our favorites with this dish), time the cookingso that it’s ready at the same time as the mussels.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, mixing it in well, then adding the chopped cilantro. Check for salt – mussel liquid can be salty, so I don’t add salt until after the mussel liquid is mixed in. Serve the pasta in individual bowls, either topping each bowl with 1/4 of the mussels (shelled or not) or else bring the mussels to the table in the pot they cooked in and let the diners shell their own as they go, adding them to their bowl. 

Beyond delicious!

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, brought back to England during the Raj. It combines the rich flavors of rice, curry and smoked fish and evolved from khichri, a spicy mixture of lentils and rice that contained no fish. It’s wonderful for brunch or supper, easy to put together and quite festive.  In England it’s usually made with smoked haddock (finnan haddie) but as it’s hard to find in the U.S., I use smoked salmon, not the Scottish or lox kind but the hot smoked, solid piece generally available at supermarkets.  You can of course use any smoked fish, or a variety if making a large amount. At its core this is a rice dish, so it’s important to use good rice. Basmati is best, but I’ve been known to use Uncle Ben’s Converted when making it for a crowd. (Uncle Ben’s is more forgiving than Basmati if there’s a delay in serving it.)

Serves 4 (double the ingredients for 8)


1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil 

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, pounded

1 tablespoon good curry powder (Madras type)

1-1/4 cups basmati rice

2 cups hot water

1 piece cold-smoked salmon, 6-8 oz.

1 tablespoon crème fraîche or whipping cream (optional)

2 hardboiled eggs, sliced

3 tablespoons chopped parsley or a mixture of parsley and cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Lemon quarters

Mango chutney (optional)

In a heavy bottomed skillet or casserole (with a lid), melt the butter over low heat, add the oil and cook the onion until softened.  Add the ginger, ground coriander and curry powder and stir around for a minute or two.  Add the rice and continue to stir for another couple of minutes until the rice is opaque and is well impregnated with the butter and spices.  Then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the hot water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to as low as possible – the rice should  barely simmer – cover the pan and let cook for 17 minutes.  Don’t peek!

Meantime, remove any skin, bones, and brown parts from the salmon and flake it.   When the rice has cooked for 17 minutes, check to make sure it’s done – the liquid should all be absorbed and the rice tender.  If it’s sticking at all, add a tablespoon of hot water to the pan.  Add the flaked salmon, half the parsley and the cream (for a richer flavor).  Stir in gently, close the pot and allow to steam for another 3 -5 minutes. Check for salt. 

Mound the kedgeree on a platter.  Decorate with the eggs, parsley and lemon quarters. Serve immediately with a bowl of chutney. 

Shrimp with Feta and Tomatoes (Garides Saganaki)

This dish is robust and full of flavor – the sweet tomato sauce contrasting nicely with the salty cheese and the bitey shrimp. It’s also very easy to make and festive enough for a dinner party entree. Garides is the Greek word for shrimp and saganaki is the pan in which it is baked. But I simply make the dish in a skillet on top of the stove.

To tell the truth, when I lived on a Greek island for six months in the 60’s, I never once ran into this dish. Greece, like most of Europe, was quite poor at the time and fish were sparse in the Mediterranean – it had been “fished out” people said. Octopus was plentiful, but the arrival of a couple of barbounia (red mullet) in the market was cause for celebration and quick acquisition.

How things have changed. With the farming of fish worldwide, shrimp is readily available in a mutitude of shapes and sizes. I know that fish farming is detrimental to the environment, but I can’t help being glad that at least shrimp and prawns are not priced beyond reach — or that they’re not nearing extinction.

Serves 4


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup white wine (or 1 tablespoon ouzo if you have it)

1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes (or use fresh if they’re in season)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and a pinch cayenne pepper

1-1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (the larger the better)

4 oz. good feta cheese

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped (or dill or parsley)

Saute the onion in the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet until soft.  Add the garlic and white wine or ouzo.  

Ouzo gives a slightly different, licorishy flavor but is more authentically Greek. Let it bubble and reduce, then add the chopped tomatoes, drained of most of their juice, a little salt (the feta is salty), the cayenne and dried oregano and cook over low heat until the sauce is slightly thickened and almost dry. Add the shrimp and cook briefly (3-5 minutes, depending on size).  Do not overcook. Add the feta and give it a minute to melt slightly, then add the chopped mint, or dill if you prefer. I like to serve this dish with simple boiled white rice and buttered spinach, but even on its own it will be sure to satisfy.

There are many kinds of fish tacos — good, bad, mediocre.  You can just grill or fry a piece of fish, use some bottled salsa, slice up some avocado, warm up a tortilla or two and be perfectly satisfied.  But a REALLY good fish taco is to die for and I think it’s worth the extra effort to come up with the best.  After a lot of trial and error, I’ve settled on two favorites, either of which I would consider having at my Last Supper.

The first is Baja-style: I use a firm-fleshed white fish such as cod, batter-fry it to a crisp, then put it in a warm tortilla along with sliced avocado and a wonderful fresh slaw. That’s it.

What’s so great about that, you ask?  Follow the recipe carefully and you’ll find out.

Baja-style Fish Tacos

Serves 4  (2 tacos per person)

For the batter:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup tepid water

1 egg white

Sieve the flour with the salt, blend in the olive oil and then the water.  Stir to a smooth cream, then let sit for at least an hour, preferably two. Before using, fold in the stiffly whipped egg white.

For the Mexican slaw:

6 cups thinly-sliced cabbage

1 large garlic clove 

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon canned chipotle in adobo, chopped  

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 small red onion, chopped fine

6 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Pound the garlic clove, cumin and salt together in a pestle and mortar (or bowl).  Add all the following ingredients and mix well.  Blend into the cabbage and let it sit for at least half an hour. This will make too much slaw for the tacos but it is so addictive that you won’t have any trouble polishing it off.

For assembling (making) the taco:

1 lb. fresh cod (or other firm-fleshed white fish)

8 – 8″ corn tortillas (size is important)

1 ripe avocado

Vegetable oil

Cut the washed and dried cod into 1/2″ x approx. 3″ pieces.  Coat the pieces well with the batter.

Heat enough oil to make 1/2″ deep in an approx. 9″ non-stick pan until a drop of batter immediately crisps.  Fry the fish on each side 2-3 minutes until golden.  Drain on paper towels.

In the meantime, wrap the tortillas in foil and heat in the oven or wrap them in a dampened paper towel and heat in a microwave.

Peel and cut the avocado into 16 slices (2 per taco).

Assemble the tacos: cup each tortilla in your hand and put in two or three pieces of the fish.  Load up with the slaw and a few slices of avocado. Devour immediately.

Salmon, Black Bean, Goat Cheese and Tomatillo-Guacamole Burritos

Serves 4 

This involves flour tortillas, so it’s technically more of a burrito than a taco. These ingedients make for a kaleidoscope of colors and flavors. I like it best with grilled salmon, but I’ve also made it with store-bought smoked salmon and liked it just fine.


6 tomatillos

1  ripe avocado

1 clove garlic

1 jalapeño pepper

1tablespoon chopped cilantro


1 15 oz. can black beans

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon lime juice

12 oz. salmon filet (or 2×6 oz.)

1 teaspoon olive oil 

4 – 8-10″ flour tortillas

4 oz. fresh goat cheese

For the Tomatillo-Guacamole:

Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse them under warm water to remove their stickiness.  Place them, along with the clove of garlic, in a skillet on a medium flame. Turn them a few times until blackened in spots and slightly softened, about 10 minutes.  Peel and chop the garlic and put it in a food processor along with the halved tomatillos, chopped jalapeño, avocado, cilantro and salt.  Puree on pulse until almost smooth, but with some texture remaining.  Transfer mixture to a bowl.

For the Black Beans:

Heat  the beans in a saucepan with about half of their liquid and the cumin, mashing them slightly.  Add salt and the lime juice.

For the Salmon:

Paint the filets with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Broil or cook on a grill pan for 3-4 minutes a side, depending on the thickness of the filets, until still opaque in the center.

Assemble the burritos:

Wrap the tortillas in foil or paper towels, heating them in the oven/microwave.  Spread each one with 1/4 of the goat cheese, 1/4 of the salmon, placed across the center of the tortilla. Add a spoonful or two of black beans on one side and the same of the guacamole on the other.  Roll up and serve. (If you like your tortillas piping hot as I do, you can give them a minute in the microwave.) 

Our Saturday mornings, particularly in the late summer and fall, start with a trip to the Alemany Farmers Market.  Last Saturday the market had suddenly become rather sad –  the rich abundance of summer had all but vanished and the fruit and veggie selection had been reduced to, alas, fall produce.  We nonetheless managed to fill our baskets with organic beets, lacinato kale, swiss chard, turnips, leeks, squash, artichokes, and a few lingering summer tomatoes.

We like to shop at Alemany because it’s local to us, but also because its vendors and customers are really a reflection of the local population: Latino, East Asian, White, African American, and whoever-else (may I say the 99%). Not to mention that it’s far less costly (some might say less “elitist”) than the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market.

With a few “extras” in the form of artisan breads and tamales and chutneys in our basket, we move on to the Manila Oriental Market (MOM), excited at the prospect of the first crabs of the season.

The start of the crab season in San Francisco seems always the same: Delayed because of a dispute between the crabbers and the distributors about the price per pound. It is usually settled in a few days, but this year it went on past Thanksgiving, unforgivable in some circles.  Apparently the price to the crabbers has hardly gone up in 20 years. If this is the case, we’re with the crabbers.

Going to MOM is not like going to the Safeway. It is much more of a jostling, competitive crowd, but as our mission is to get the liveliest live crabs at the best price, we fit right in.  We leave with two 2+ pounders.

When we get home, our 9-year-old grandson is waiting, anxious to see if the crabs pass the liveliness test by pitting them against each other in the kitchen sink. They are then plunged into boiling water, and removed after 15 minutes. Once cooled, we crack them and remove their bounty.

Since he was four, Julian and Granddad have spent Saturday mornings during crab season buying, cooking and cracking crabs. But lately our grandson has shown less interest in the actual purchasing (he has other fish to fry) and really only plays a supervisory role, particularly in the preparation of the Louis sauce. I think this was the first thing he learned to make in the kitchen, and he took to it like a duck to water.  “Does this have too much lemon in it, Granny?  A bit more crème fraîche?” Inevitably, he always “tested” at least half of the sauce before it got to the table.

We serve the crab at room temperature, on a bed of lettuce, maybe tomatoes or cucumber or boiled eggs, and of course, the Louis Sauce.

Julian’s Louis Sauce 

 3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 teaspoon mustard

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup crème fraîche (optional)

Combine all ingredients by stirring well.