Tag Archives | Rona Lewis

methods & madness…
class 9: fish – 
farming, filleting & floundering


Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

I grew up on a farm in Iowa. We raised cows, pigs and chickens, but no fish. Even though there are 25,000 identified species of fish, the only ones that made it to Iowa were frozen, breaded and slapped on a plastic tray in the lunch line. Sadly, that was my sole culinary fish experience as a child.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Fishing was a different story. I learned that from my Grandmother. She said all you need to fish is a tree branch (rod), fishing line, a safety pin (hook), freshly caught grasshoppers (bait) and the patience of Job. I am not sure if it was catching the grasshoppers or just listening to Grandmother’s stories that I loved most. I was always grateful that we didn’t catch any fish for fear of having to cut and clean them.

Whole Salmon

Fish Fears

Today’s class confirmed those fish filleting fears. I was floundering at the sight of the dead fish in front of me. Filleting is a messy job best left to a fishmonger. But for the brave of heart, or culinary student… it is possible.

Filleting a SalmonFor a video on how to fil­let a whole salmon click here.

Rona successfully skinned her fish in class to make “Black Cod with a Miso Glaze served with Ginger Stir Fried Bok Choy”. Click here for that recipe.

 black cod fillet

Why Fish? 

Fish is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids. Eating fish can reduce problems associated with PMS, memory loss, cardiovascular functions, colon cancer, and stroke.

Types of Fin Fish

  • Round— has a middle backbone with one fillet on either side, and one eye on each side of its head.
  • Flat—has a backbone running through the center of fish, both eyes are on the same side of the head.
  • Non-Boney—has cartilage rather than bones.

Fish are also categorized by their activity levels of low, medium and high. The more a fish swims the flesh will be darker, the oil content higher, and the flavor stronger. 

Identifying Fish

  • Flat—halibut, turbot, sole, flounder
  • Low Activity Round—haddock, pollock, cod
  • Medium Activity Round—pike, grouper, yellowtail, snapper, sea bass
  • High Activity Round—salmon, trout, arctic char, tuna
  • Non-Boney—sturgeon, monkfish, sword fish
  • Other fish—eel, catfish, anchovy, sardine, tilapia 

Best Cooking Techniques  

  • Active fish have firm flesh, and are oilier with a stronger taste. They are good for grilling, sautéing, poaching, steaming, roasting—not good for deep-frying.
  • Low Active fish are mild, lean, flaky and have a delicate flavor. They are great for sautéing, deep-frying, broiling, grilling, poaching, steaming and baking—not good for grilling.

Sustainable Fish

If you want to know how to select a sustainable fish click here to read my blog titled
“The Seafood Saga… 6 things to know before you buy”.

salmon head

How to buy Fish – Use Your Senses

  • Look. It should have shiny and taught skin with no discolored patches. If you are buying a whole fish, eyes should be clear and full, fins should not be torn. If there is any liquid on the meat it should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
  • Smell. A fresh fish should smell like the ocean or seaweed. Don’t buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it and your cats won’t eat it either… don’t ask.
  • Touch. If you can touch the fish, it should have a dense quality. If it is full of moisture it should spring back when you touch it. If my fingerprint remains, I move on to the beef department.

Class Assignment

I was assigned grilled tuna.  It was super easy to make. This would also be great served over spicy greens.

Dry Rubbed Grilled Tuna with Orzo Salad

From New School of Cooking
Serves 6-8

Orzo Salad Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. orzo, cooked and cooled
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 T. mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 T. dill, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 oz. feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook the orzo in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain. Once orzo has cooled, toss with remaining ingredients and serve.
tuna rub

Dry Rubbed Grilled Tuna 


  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. finely minced thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs albacore fillet


Distribute the rub over the fish fillets.  Grill 8-10 minutes per inch. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve with the orzo.

Did you know?

There are more species of fish than all the species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined. And guess what… they all eat fish.

Fish and Fisheries cited over 500 research papers on fish intelligence, proving that fish are smart, and have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures.

Fish appear to be smarter than cats, or at least this one.

Now that you’ve been entertained,  I’m off to fry other fish.
…and then she paused for thought

Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.

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methods & madness…

class 8 part 2: poetic pasta

Moroccan Pilaf

Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

The secret behind pasta’s popularity in many cultures is its simplicity; simple ingredients, simple to make, simple to cook. The beauty of pasta is its amazing ability to comfort even the most tormented soul.

Pasta’s Pilgrimage 

The history of pasta is controversial at best, and dates as far back as 5,000 years. Interestingly enough, how pasta is made has stayed relatively unchanged for the last 500 years.

If you thought pasta originated in Italy, guess again! Try China. What the Italians are famous for however, is making pasta famous.

It is estimated that Italians eat over 60 lbs. of pasta per person, per year easily beating Americans, who eat about 20 lbs. per person.

Coming to America

It was Thomas Jefferson who is credited with bringing the first “macaroni” machine to America in 1789 when he returned home after serving as ambassador to France.

The first industrial pasta factory in America was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by, of all people, a Frenchman, who spread his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry in the sunshine.

Americans have been in love with pasta ever since. Continue Reading →

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methods & madness…

class 8 part 1: legumes, grains & rice

Moroccan Pilaf


Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

If I told you we are learning about plants, grasses and seeds in school this week, you might think I took a wrong turn and ended up at a gardening class… not so. We learned about nutritious foods that our ancestors ate. Today’s recipe is a contemporary twist on an old classic.

Loveable Legumes

Legumes are plants with seedpods. The seeds are released by splitting open along two seams. Edible seeds in the legume family include beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts. Some seeds are eaten fresh, canned, frozen, dried or as flour.

Legumes are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals, low in sodium as well as gluten free. They are inexpensive, versatile, and have a long shelf life. What more could one want?

To prepare dried legumes

  • Remove stones or shriveled beans.
  • Put in pot with cold water — remove any that float to the top as they are too dry for culinary or nutritional value.
  • Drain and rinse well.

To soak or not to soak 

The culinary jury is still out on this one, but my research says soak.


  • Softens skin for more rapid and even cooking
  • Creamier texture
  • Activates enzymes that break down indigestible starches and sugars which are responsible for flatulence as they ferment in your gut producing gas.

Two methods of Soaking

  • Long Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Soak in refrigerator four hours or overnight.
  • Short Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to simmer. Remove pot from heat and cover. Let steep for one hour.

Proper cooking techniques would include simmering or steaming.

TIP: Don’t boil legumes, as high heat will make them tough, as will adding salt to your beans while cooking.

black beans and lentils


Gratifying Grains

Grains are a staple in the diets of cultures around the world and have made an important contribution to daily nutrition since cultivation began around 10,000 B.C.

In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

Whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split or ground. They can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other foods.

Fun Fact: One of the most popular whole grain foods is popcorn.

quinoa salad and tabouli


Cereals and Meals

Cereals are grasses whose seeds are used as food grains. Cereal grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Meals are whole grains that are ground until they have the con­sis­tency of sand.

  • Cereals — wheat, rice, millet, oats, bulgar, barley, maize and rye
  • Meals — grits, polenta, semolina, and cream of rice

Renowned Rice

Rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than any other crop dating back as far as 2500 B.C. Worldwide there are more than 40,000 varieties of rice.

Rice is classified mostly by the size of the grain.

  • Long-grain rice is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking, so this is the best choice if you want to serve rice as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces.
  • Medium-grain rice is shorter and plumper, and works well in paella and risotto.
  • Short-grain rice is almost round with moist grains that stick together when cooked. It is very starchy and the best choice for rice pudding and sushi.

Most varieties are sold as either brown or white rice, depending upon how they are milled.

Brown rice retains the bran that surrounds the kernel, making it chewier, nuttier, and richer in nutrients. Brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice.

White rice is more tender and delicate, but lacks the bran and germ, hence it’s less nutritious than brown rice.

Wild rice is not really rice at all. Wild rice is a remote relative of white rice, actually a long-grain, aquatic grass. It is richer in protein and other nutrients, and it has a more distinctive and nutty flavor.

Rona covers cooking rice in her blog, click here to check it out.

We also learned about pasta which I have included in a part two of this post.  Click here to read about pasta and a recipe for Potato Gnoochi with Brown Butter Sauce that I made in class. Rona made Basil Pesto on Linguine and Bucatini all’Amatriciana.

basil pesto and spaghetti

Click here to read her post and get the recipes.

Homework Assignment

I was quite mesmerized by the Moroccan Rice Pilaf we ate in class, so that is the recipe I’ll share with you. I served it with  Spice Rubbed Salmon.   

Moroccan Rice Pilaf
Recipe type: Side Dish
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • ⅓ cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • ⅓ cup dried tart cherries
  • minced zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ tablespoons snipped fresh chives
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow 1½ quart casserole dish.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the almonds over medium heat until they are browned and fragrant, 3 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, cinnamon and salt. Cook 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent.
  4. Stir in the stock, cherries, orange zest and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  5. Transfer mixture to the prepared casserole and bake, uncovered until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve.
Cook time: 45 mins - Serves 6


“Legumes offer a host of health benefits that make them a  highly sought after, non-animal source of protein.”
– Terry Walters, Clean Food

I am not ready to give up my carnivore nature, but I am willing to participate in the international campaign called Meatless Mondays. Eating more legumes and grains will make the process easier.
…and then she paused for thought

Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.


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methods & madness…

class 7: virtuous vegetables

Sweet Potato & Carrot Puree


Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

We all know we’re supposed to eat vegetables… because our mothers told us so. But there are other reasons to eat them as well. Today we will be learning about the virtues of vegetables.

The body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as there are in them. Over 95% of vegetables contain less than a gram of fat per serving and are full of fiber. This means you can fill up for less!

Continue Reading →

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methods & madness…

class 6: fruits, veggies, herbs & salads

Persimmons - Pomegranate Salad

 Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

Fall has arrived in Southern California bringing a crisp chill to the air. That’s when I gravitate towards steamy soups; but did you know Fall is actually great weather for salads? Many salad greens grow best in cooler weather. Add some seasonal fruits and vegetables and you’re on your way to some exciting Fall dishes, including today’s recipe. If you’re looking for a festive holiday salad, this one is a showstopper!

In addition to salads, this week we learned about herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Herbal Essence

Ancient Greeks crowned their heroes with dill and laurel. Today, fresh herbs are the jewels in our culinary dishes, paramount to any great recipe. Additionally, fresh herbs add flavor without the calories. They’re easy to use and can last over a week, if stored properly.

How to Store Fresh Herbs

  • Rinse fresh herbs well, lay on a paper towel. A salad spinner works great.
  • Wrap loosely in the paper towel, then place in zip-lock bag, leaving bag open.
  • Store open bag of herbs in your refrigerator’s crisper.

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

  • If you are substituting fresh herbs for dried ones, use about three times as much.
  • Add the more delicate herbs a minute or two before completion of cooking, or sprinkle on food before serving.  e.g. parsley, cilantro, mint, chives, cilantro, basil, and dill.
  • The less delicate herbs, such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon and sage, can be added in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Continue Reading →
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