Few chefs know seafood like Ben Pollinger.
Since 2006, he has been executive chef at Oceana, one of New York's most respected seafood restaurants. And his first cookbook, "School of Fish," was just released.
Here's how to make a few of his finest nautical recipes: mahi mahi, ambrosia, thyme with honey-glazed carrots and grilled escarole.
Broiled Mahi Mahi with Spiced Squash Purée and Maria's Mole
One of my cooks, Maria Gonzalez, makes this mole for staff meal. She serves it with chicken and it's really tasty. So I asked her to teach me to make it so that I could put it on the menu. She picked up the ingredients from her Hispanic grocer. And I noticed a box of animal crackers in the bag. I said, "What's with the animal crackers? Is that for your kid?" "No, it's for the mole--you fry them up and put them in the sauce," she said. I said, "We're not putting animal crackers in the sauce!" Well, she put me in my place. "Who's asking who to make the sauce?" she said. She had a point. So I shut up and rolled with it. This is a great mole. The crackers thicken it and add a subtle sweetness.
I made some minor adjustments to the recipe to make it more home-cook friendly but it's essentially Maria's family recipe. (Which, of course, really is a home-cook recipe.) I adapted it for Oceana by serving it with meaty, full-flavored mahi mahi and a rustic, Mexican-inspired pumpkin-bean mash. You'll have leftover mole. Freeze it, defrost, and reheat in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking. If it doesn't smooth out, pop it back into the blender with a few tablespoons of water (or use an immersion blender) and buzz until smooth again.
For the Mole
1 1⁄2 ounces (5 medium) whole, dried, stemmed mulato chiles
1 ounce (7 medium) whole, dried, stemmed, pasilla chiles
1 medium shallot
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a large knife
1⁄4 cup white sesame seeds
1⁄4 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts
3⁄4 cup canola oil
3⁄4 cup golden raisins
3⁄4 cup sliced almonds
1⁄4 cup animal crackers
1⁄4 yellow plantain, on the turn from yellow to black (almost ripe), cut lengthwise into 4 slices
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground anise seed
1 quart boiling water
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
For the Spiced Pumpkin Purée
1 cup dry adzuki or red beans
Fine sea salt
One 2-pound kabocha squash, or other winter squash such as butternut
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
For the Mahi Mahi
Four 6- to 8-ounce boneless, skinless, mahi mahi fillets, about 1⁄2-inch thick
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons canola oil
1. For the mole, heat a heavy stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the mulato chiles and toast on both sides, pressing them flat with a spatula to make contact with the pan, until they're fragrant and warm enough to be pliable, about 1 1⁄2 minutes. Put in a small saucepan. Add the pasilla chiles to the hot pan and toast 1 1⁄2 minutes; add to the pan with the mulato chiles. Add the shallot and garlic cloves to the hot skillet and toast, stirring a couple of times, until charred, about 1 minute. Add to the pan with the chiles. Add the sesame seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring, 1 minute; add to the saucepan. Add the peanuts to the pan; set aside.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1⁄2 cup of the oil and heat until a few raisins added to the oil bubble gently. Add the raisins and fry until plump, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to the pan with the chiles. Add the sliced almonds to the oil and cook until golden, about 1 minute. (Remove from the heat if they brown too quickly.) Remove with a slotted spoon to the saucepan. Add the animal crackers to the oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute; add to the saucepan. Discard the oil.
3. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 1⁄4 cup oil and heat until shimmering. Add the plantain and fry until golden on one side, about 1 minute. Turn with a spatula and fry until golden on the other side, about 1 more minute. Use the slotted spoon to remove to the saucepan. Add the brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and anise to the oil and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 45 seconds. Do not burn. Pour the contents of the sauté pan into the saucepan. Add the boiling water. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3 hours to soften.
4. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend on high speed until smooth. Season with the salt.
1⁄2 c. heavy cream
3⁄4 c. nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. honey
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 c. halved grapes (halved lengthwise)
1 c. diced pineapple (diced 1/3 inch)
2 navel oranges, segmented, segments cut into thirds
1⁄2 c. shelled unsalted pistachios
3⁄4 c. shredded sweetened coconut
1 c. marshmallows, diced 1/3 inch (or mini marshmallows)
Whip cream to soft peaks.
In a separate bowl, whisk yogurt, honey and salt together.
Mix 1/3 of the whipped cream into the yogurt mixture, using the whisk in a folding motion.
Continue to mix the rest of the whipped cream into the yogurt in two more additions.
Combine grapes, pineapple, oranges, pistachios and coconut in another bowl, folding together gently.
Fold the whipped cream/yogurt mixture to the fruit mixture.
Fold the marshmallows into the mixture.
Serve and remember the 1970's.
Thyme and Honey-Glazed Carrots
A touch of honey brings out the natural sweetness in carrots. A drizzle of vinegar brings it back into
check in this sweet and sour dish. The carrots are cut into what is called a "roll" cut by cutting on an angle, then rolling the carrot slightly on the cutting board after each cut to achieve an oblique shape. It's a small refinement but it makes for a more interesting presentation than slices.
1 1⁄2 pounds carrots, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut the carrots on an angle into 3⁄4-inch pieces, rolling the carrots slightly after each cut to form
2. Heat a 12-inch skillet or straight-sided sauté pan (with a cover) over medium heat. Add the oil and the carrots and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Add the thyme and stir. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. Add the honey and vinegar and stir to combine. Add the butter and stir until the glaze comes together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the thyme before serving.
Escarole is a sturdy, bitter green that is most often braised or stewed. So when Guy Jones, a farmer at Blooming Hill Farm in Washingtonville, New York, where I buy some of my produce, told me about his recipe for grilled escarole, I had to try it. It's excellent. Serve it hot, or make it ahead to eat at room temperature. It's especially good with grilled swordfish and bagna cauda but will complement any firm, full-flavored fish such as striped bass or salmon, grilled, broiled, or sautéed
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove any browned or wilted leaves from the escarole.
Quarter the head lengthwise and trim the stem ends so that the quarters remain intact.
Rinse well to remove the grit between the leaves.
Place the quarters in a large baking dish or platter.
Drizzle with the vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Let marinate at room temperature for about 1 hour, turning the escarole in the marinade every now and then to make sure the seasonings penetrate.
Clean the grill grates with a grill brush.
Place the escarole on the grill and grill, turning once, until charred on the edges, and wilted, and a paring knife pierces the escarole with no resistance, 2 to 3 minutes each side.