Vacation cooking

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Many people go on vacation to escape the everyday, including cooking. They go to luxurious resorts or hotels and eat out daily, sometimes for all three meals.  The Soup-er family doesn’t do that.

Ever since we’ve had children, we have rarely stayed in hotels, opting for rental apartments or houses that offer the kids more space and a separate bedroom–thereby sparing the parents from having to share a room with the kiddos and go to sleep at some ridiculously early hour.  We’ve rented vacation homes near and far–Wellfleet, Paris, Bermuda, Portugal, Tulum, Puerto Rico, Barcelona, the Dordogne, New Hampshire, Maine, and even Los Angeles.

DSC03835.JPGWith access to a kitchen, we are able to have a lot of flexibility around meals, eating in or out as we feel like it.  Most recently in Martinique, I loved having a leisurely breakfast in my jammies overlooking a gorgeous bay. In Paris, Mr. No Nom and I would wind down after the kids were in bed by sharing a late dessert and a bottle of wine, as the City of Light twinkled.  And in Wellfleet, we would feast on fresh shucked oysters and steamed lobsters on a deck overlooking a salty marsh.

DSC02072.JPGHaving a kitchen means that we can take advantage of fresh local ingredients, savor fresh pain au chocolat for breakfasts in Paris, or make our own rum drinks in Puerto Rico and Tulum.  As a cook and foodie, I love visiting local markets on our travels–whether the grand food halls at Harrod’s in London or the Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona, to the floating markets DSC02388.JPGin the Mekong Delta or the musty aisles of a village mercado in Portugal.

Markets are windows into the a specific culture, from the local specialties to people watching itself. And without fail, when I visit a market, I want to cook.
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Some of our most memorable dishes have been made in vacation kitchens, where the knives are dull, the pans far from nonstick, and many of my staple ingredients, especially fish sauce, are missing.  And yet, these impromptu meals, built on whatever is fresh and available, are often so very satisfying. Two particular dishes stand out in recent memory: spice-rubbed roasted bluefish in Wellfleet and grilled whole red snapper with spicy mango salsa in Martinique.  In both cases, we bought fresh fish and then made do with whatever we happened to find in the pantries.  And in both cases, the results were delicious and memorable.  The food was good, but vacation cooking also embodies a certain je ne sais quoi that makes everything taste brighter, more vibrant.  Perhaps it’s a local element–the taste of the ocean, the terroir, spices in the humid air. Whatever it is, it always leaves me wanting more.

Spice-rubbed bluefish
Blue fish is native to the Atlantic waters off the coast of New England and are often abundant in the summer months. Many folks are put off by the oiliness of the fish, which makes the flavors more intense, though still less “fishy” than mackerel.

3 lbs fillet fresh bluefish
2 large shallots, sliced into thin rounds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon wedges

Pat dry the bluefish and season generously with salt and pepper.  Mix together the coriander, cumin, paprika, and chili powder. Sprinkle 3/4 of the mixture onto the bluefish, rubbing the spices gently into the fish. Layer the shallots atop the spice-rubbed fillet and then sprinkle with the reserved spice mixture and drizzle with olive oil.  Place the fillet on large piece of foil and wrap into a loose flat packet.  Grill or roast (at 400F) for 15-20 minutes depending on thickness of the fillet.  Open packet carefully and serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges. I served this dish with some simple green salad and cappellini tossed in a pan with sauteed garlic, tomatoes and capers.

Grilled red snapper with mango salsa
This dish was the perfect blend of the exotic bounty of the french Caribbean–marrying the fresh local seafood with the fresh fruits and spices of the region. I made the dish twice, the first time with marlin steaks instead of the red snapper.  I prefer the red snapper, but a thick steak of firm white fish would also work.

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2 whole red snappers (about 3 lbs total)
olive oil
2 ataulfo mangoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, diced
juice of 2 small limes (use juice of one lime first and then add more to taste)
1/2 habanero pepper, de-seeded and finely minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
salt and pepper

Generously sprinkle salt and pepper on the fish, then drizzle with olive oil.  Grill over hot coals, 8-10 minutes per side.  Combine mangoes, red onion, line juice, habanero, and cilantro in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste. Remove red snappers from grill and arrange on a plate. Spoon salsa mixture over fish and serve with rice, grilled veggies, and a chilled dry white wine.

 

 

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