It is difficult to imagine a table devoid of pork and all its by-products at this time. Beef, too, cooked in numerous ways. But I truly wonder if it is ever possible to have a table filled with fish of all sorts, in lieu of our old-time favorites.
I recently got in touch with Enrique Valles, chief commercial officer of Mida Food, the country’s premier seafood specialist and a direct importer for and distributor to top restaurants, food chains and retail establishments.
I asked if he thought a meatless Christmas is even conceivable. “Of course, but unlikely,” he said. “I’ve always thought that serving a whole fish, say a whole salmon or halibut (poached, baked, grilled) is more decadent and looks as much of a feast as lechon. Add Christmas flavors like cinnamon, honey or even berry (strawberry, raspberry, etc.) glazes, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful and refreshing alternative to your typical ham!”
Just this week, Mida launched Pacific Bay, which aims to provide consumers easy access to great-quality restaurant-standard seafood at affordable prices.
“We have a select range of items sold under Pacific Bay, namely Cream Dory Fillet, Halibut Fillet, Chilean Seabass Steaks, Gindara Steaks, Halibut Steaks, Tuna Belly Premium, US Scallop Meat, Crabstick. We’re also developing King Crab, Tuna Saku Bars, Hamachi, among other things, in the pipeline soon,” said Valles. “You can find Pacific Bay in most SM Hypermarts, Robinsons Supermarket, and soon in S&R, Rustan’s, Shopwise.”
I have always wondered how home cooks can share in our joy of being able to pick from a colossal list of tasty treats from the sea; now, with Pacific Bay, it has become possible. Its blue packaging is hard to miss and is loaded with information. It has facts on fish and shellfish, cooking tips, the best way to thaw, how to pick seafood right, etc.
So to add to your holiday repertoire, I asked Enrique to suggest ways to cook and serve their new product line. Valles, who also happens to be a chef and owner of Chucks Grub, a fish and chips restaurant, quickly agreed.
Cream dory: Coat in beer batter a la Chucks Grub! The secret is in making a perfect beer batter that forms a solid crust around the fish, allowing it to steam inside.
Halibut, sea bass, gindara: Pan-fry with a bit of butter over high heat. Gindara has the highest fat content and therefore will caramelize the most. Halibut is the firmest and smallest of the three.
Tuna: Perfect raw (toro) or lightly cured, or at most grilled over low coal flame.
Scallops: Pan-fry over very high heat, basting constantly with butter. Takes less than 3 minutes to cook.
Crabstick, kani salad: Japanese mayonnaise, cucumbers, tobiko—you can even add mangoes and some greens if you wish.
Shellfish: Cast over a grill; the clams will cook for about 5-6 minutes. Let them cook in their own juice. When they open, dab with parsley butter.
Squid: Score squid fillet and grill for 2 minutes per side, or until it folds. Cut into strips, squeeze lemon and season.
Shrimp: Gambas al pilpil, but shrimp needs to be super-fresh for the oil to emulsify. With garlic plus a bit of chili, low-heat in a clay pot; mix it around until sauce thickens and shrimp is cooked.
Nice crab lump meat: Mix with garlic and chili and mix with linguini. Use very good extra-virgin olive oil!
The best way to cook fish, added Valles, is for one to start with a very hot pan and, halfway through cooking, turn the heat off. This guarantees that you lock in the flavor without overcooking the fish.
For his festive fish recipe, Valles combined two recipes into one for that extra holiday feel.
“For me, the most festive Christmas seafood you can find is salmon. A nice fresh Norwegian salmon slab will give our good old ham a run for its money any day of the week,” he said.
Roasted Norwegian Salmon Fillet with Ginger Strawberry Glaze
1 Atlantic salmon fillet 2-3kg/pc skin on
½ c strawberry jam (the chunkier
1 thumb-size ginger, no need to peel
¼ brown sugar
3 c water
1 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
1. Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper.
2. Squeeze half of one lemon over the meat side.
3. Place in oven and bake for 4 minutes, skin side down.
In the meantime, make your glaze.
4. Mix strawberry jam, brown sugar, ginger, water, fennel seeds and the rest of the lemon in a sauce pot.
5. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer and thicken, around 7 minutes.
6. Take salmon out of the oven and drizzle half the glaze over the meat; make sure to spread out evenly.
7. Bake for another 6 minutes.
8. Take out of oven and drizzle the rest of your glaze over the meat.
Mida’s sashimi-grade hamachi-yellowtail fillets (Japanese amberjack) are also sold at a very reasonable price (considering how much an order of it is when bought outside). You may request to have the fillets packed in insulated bags, ready to be given out as gifts.
For sashimi, Valles recommends defrosting the hamachi slowly by putting it in the chiller, which is not frequently opened. Then skin and slice.
To cook, “This fish has a rich, slightly briny flavor and a fairly high fat content, making it deliciously silky when seared in a pan or on a grill, or baked. Cook the fish until the center of the thickest part is a bit shy of turning fully opaque.”
Mida Food is at 2219 Singalong St., Malate, Manila; tel. 5240006/7; visit www.midafood.com