seafood recipes

From Paris' trendiest tables to yours: Whelks with basil aïoli are a snap to make

If you've been to Paris in the last few years (I just got back!), you know that bistronomie – laid-back bites in relaxed, new-style bistros – is Parisians' favorite way to dine these days. Expensive, elaborate menus dégustations (tasting menus) are pretty much for tourists and rich old fogies. OK, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but that's how it feels.

Thierry, Wylie and I dined bistronomie-style each of four nights when we visited Paris earlier this month, and twice we found bulots – the small sea snails English-speakers call whelks. They seem to be having a moment! I'd seen and eaten them occasionally in decades past on plateaux de fruits de mer – chilled seafood platters – where they'd sometimes be mingled with oysters and clams on the half-shell and steamed or boiled bigourneaux (periwinkles). 

"Bulots mayo," is how they were announced on the blackboard menu at Jeanne A – a terrific little bistro in the super-hot 11th arrondissement. I had to order them (6 euros) – for the three of us to share with our other starters. 

They came chilled in a coffee cup, accompanied by a little pot of good, house-made mayo. So much fun! A couple nights later, there they were again – listed under "zakouskis" at Le Servan, which offered them with mayonnaise au piment for 8 euros. (Le Servan, by the way, was wonderful – the best meal I had in Paris this trip, also in the 11th.) 

Ding ding ding ding ding! A lightbulb went off over my head: We can make bulots at home! Why? Because I know where to find them – and very inexpensively: at Jusco, an Asian supermarket with a fabulous seafood selection, in the Dallas suburb of Plano. In fact, I'd picked some up (about $6 per pound) to toss onto a seafood paella just a couple weeks before my France trip.  

As I researched bulots on my return, I learned a few things. First, that they're also called buccins, though I've never seen them called that on a menu. Second, that they're traditionally served in Provence with aîoli – the super-garlicky mayo whose name has been appropriated by American chefs who want to make gentler flavored mayos sound chic.  And third, that whelks is a term applied to several different types of sea snails, which explains why they don't always look quite the same – some are striped or ridged; others are spotted and smooth.

In any case, they couldn't be easier to cook. First, give 'em a 10-minute soak in cold water, so they release any sand, and rinse. Then boil them in heavily salted water for 20 minutes. That's it. I went a step further and tossed some sliced onion, thyme and bay leaves to the water as it came to a boil, and added a splash of white wine – a court bouillon on-the-fly. 

But first I whipped up some aîoli – a real one, with lots of garlic. It's easy to make in a blender. I flavored half of it with chopped basil. Or you could add chopped or puréed roasted red pepper. Or you could serve the bulots with mayo from a jar, dressed up with a squirt of harissa from a tube. But even plain mayo – home-made or store-bought would be swell.

With the aïoli – and glasses of chilled rosé – they were outstanding, a fabulous pre-dinner nibble, ideal for laid-back entertaining. Serve 'em warm, or chilled, or room temp – with toothpicks, which you need to coax the meat out of the shell. Delicious fun indeed. Want to try it? Here's the recipe:

Please let us know if you find them in your neck of the woods – and how you like 'em!



Easy pan-roasted seafood antipasto turns a simple pasta dinner into a special event

A funny thing happened on the way to my okonomiyaki.

You know, okonomiyaki – the Osaka-style seafood pancake that homesick Japanese transplants in America go wild for. It's sort of become a cult thing, maybe because it's crowned with katsuobushi – bonito flakes – which wave mysteriously around, making the thing look as though it's alive.

I'm working on a recipe for okonomiyaki; I promise.  You can see a video of my last attempt (it's close! nearly there!) on my Cooks Without Borders Instagram feed. In fact, I'd bought all the ingredients to make it a few days ago – squid, shrimp, scallops and more, thinking I'd nail it that evening.

"Oh, man," said Thierry. "Okonomiyaki again?!" Yeah, yeah, I'd already made it twice in just a couple weeks, but the third time's the charm, right? Recipe development can be a process of trial and error, and this one – which diverges from traditional ones – has proven to be tricky. 

But I'm nothing if not flexible, so I did a quick pivot – Japan to Italy. I knew there was a bottle of crisp white wine in the fridge, along with some parsley, and baby arugula. We have a giant rosemary bush out back. A warm seafood antipasto, I was thinking – that would be lovely with an arugula salad. It would be nice to eat light.

I turned to an old favorite cookbook for inspiration: Evan Kleiman's Cucina del Mare: Fish and Seafood Italian Style. Kleinman is a wonderful chef who for many years had a beloved restaurant in Los Angeles called Angeli that delighted Italian food lovers for decades. When I moved to Dallas in 2009 as a then-incognito restaurant critic, a commenter on one of the local food blogs tried to out me by posting my photo online. Ha! The photo wasn't me, it was Evan Kleinman. That cracked me up. Nice try, amici miei

The recipe I found was for pan-roasted squid, calamari arrosto. Kleiman gave the squid a toss with olive oil, fresh rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, popped it in the oven, roasted it for 25 minutes, then gave it a squeeze of lemon and a parsley garnish. Nice! 

The seafood, tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper, is ready to go into the oven.

The seafood, tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper, is ready to go into the oven.


I used the same method with the shrimp, squid and scallops, tossing in some halved cherry tomatoes. It worked beautifully. And so easy. 

We poured glasses of crisp white wine, and I tossed an arugula salad. We sat down to a perfect, light, simple dinner, which incidentally would also make a lovely lunch.

In spite of its simplicity, the dish's taste is pretty snazzy. I'm always looking for an easy and delicious antipasto to jazz up a pasta dinner, and this certainly fits the bill.

Want the recipe? It's yours.

Serve it with good, crusty bread to sop up the delicious juices. 



Roasted branzino with citrus and thyme is a snap to make

A whole roasted branzino: Doesn't that sound dreamy? And how about whole branzino roasted with sliced lemons, limes, oranges and onions, and twigs of fresh thyme? What would you think if I told you this was one of the easiest fish dishes you could possibly make – and also one of the most impressive? 

You'd say "sign me up" – am I right??!! 

OK, so first, branzino. You might know it as Mediterranean sea bass, or – its French name –  loup de mer. Some people call it branzini, which is also the plural of branzino in Italian (Italian pals, please correct me if I'm wrong!).  It's a delicately flavored fin fish with soft, white flesh – and it's surprisingly easy to cook. Even if you tried to ruin this dish, you'd probably fail. And roasting is my favorite fool-proof way to cook it. 

First, go to the store. Ask the fishmonger for whole branzini. One smallish one – about three quarters of a pound – per person is ideal. Two biggish ones are just right to serve three, which is what I used to do before the kid left for college. Ask the fishmonger to scale, gut and clean them, and snip off the pectoral fins (those are the ones on the side of the fish near the gill). If they forget to, you can do that at home -- just give them a snip with your kitchen shears or scissors. Tell the fishmonger to leave the heads and tails on, as it makes a nicer presentation. Unless you're the kind of person that can't bear to see them – then off they go. Roasting them on the bone results in the best flavor, and flesh that stays super-moist, so resist the urge to have them filleted.

OK, you've got your branzini. When you're ready to roast them, give them another rinse in the sink, focusing on the cavity. Pat them dry. 

If you're a confident cook, you don't even need a recipe for this; it's that simple.  Drizzle a little olive oil in a glass baking dish or other roasting pan. Scatter some sliced onion on the oil, then lay the fish over the onion. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper, tuck some fresh thyme and a few thin slices of citrus (lemon, lime and orange or any combination) inside their cavities, scatter more thyme, onion and citrus slices over them, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes. 

Transfer them to a serving platter and fillet them at the table. You can be totally casual about it (as we do for family dinners), or – if you're serving them to guests (a double recipe makes a great dinner party for four) – you can fillet each, transfer to a plate, sprinkle with a few flakes of Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper and offer a bottle of your best, fresh, fruity olive oil to drizzle over that lovely white flesh. 

What to serve with it? Some simple blanched-then-sautéed rapini or green beans, sautéed zucchini or spinach. Or start dinner with a simple arugula salad with shaved parm and good balsamic vinaigrette and follow with the fish, maybe with some roasted potatoes. 

OK. I'm making myself hungry. Do try this and let us know how it goes!

Cedar-plank salmon: Nearly naked is the way to go

Cedar-plank salmon

Wild salmon. Just hearing the phrase makes me yearn for it. 

For fish lovers, wild salmon is one of the most delicious things on the planet. But all too often, people fussy it up too much, or cook it too aggressively. In my kitchen, I love best to poach it gently, or cook it slowly skin-side down in a pan with just a few drops of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Often I give it a quick turn to cook the other side for just a moment, then finish cooking it skin-side down. Cooked gently like this, it stays delicate and tender. And there's a bonus: It's easier to control exactly how done you'd like it.

When salmon on the grill sounds like the greatest thing possible, I reach for a cedar plank. The internet is giddy with recipes for cedar-plank salmon gussied up with honey-mustard glazes or citrus-ginger marinades or herb-and-garlic oils. You know what? They can keep 'em. To my palate there's nothing like the flavor of the wild fish enhanced only by the fresh woodsy cedar, salt and pepper and a little smoke. It's such an incredible luxury. 

And it's incredibly easily accomplished. Soak the plank two hours in water. Lay the salmon skin-side down on the plank, season with sea salt and pepper and set it on a grill over white-hot coals. Cover and wait 20 minutes. 

Remove the cover, transfer the fish to a serving platter or wooden board, and prepare to swoon. You can serve it with lemon wedges. Or not. 


One other thing: If you're nervous about the done-ness, you can use a thin knife to check the progress after about 15 minutes, gently separating the flesh at the thickest part. You want it still a little translucent in the center, and opaque on the edges. But you know what? In my experience, 20 minutes has always been exactly right. 


Bouri de Bizerte – roasted branzino – is the centerpiece of a culinary excursion to Tunisia

Our friends Habib Loriot-Bettaieb and Nicola Longford are both wonderful cooks – he's French-Tunisian; she's a Brit. We'd been bugging Habib for ages to cook something Tunisian for us, and last weekend we prevailed: He and Nicola invited us to their townhouse near the Dallas Farmers Market for a night in Tunisia. Cooks Without Borders' second guest cook event!

The centerpiece of the dinner is bouri de Bizerte – "a typical Tunisian dish," says Habib, as he seeds and slices peppers, "perhaps from the northern part, with the French loup de mer." That's the Mediterranean sea bass you may know as branzino. "Bouri is the Tunisian word for it," Habib explains. "It's from the town of Bizerte, where there's a very old harbor. My nanny Zina used to fix stuff like this." 

(Habib is somewhat camera-shy, which is why the visual focus is on the food.)

The dish – simply roasted loup de mer with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions and saffron – is ideal for entertaining, as you can ready everything in advance, then pop the baking dish in the oven and forget about it for 25 minutes. Have a salad or other appetizer ready, and when you're ready for the main course, just transfer the fish and vegetables and the lovely sauce they create to a serving dish.

For the peppers – felfel in Tunisian – Habib uses Anaheims; they're very similar, he says. 

Habib's bouri de Bizerte, almost ready for the oven. Habib later told me he prefers to slice the vegetables differently, a change that's reflected in the (re-tested) recipe.


The dish is easy to assemble. In a baking dish or roasting pan, arrange the fish (whole fishes, heads and tails removed, cut in four) with parboiled Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered onions and Roma tomatoes and the sliced peppers. Add some water infused with a luxurious dose of saffron and some melted butter, a good dollop of olive oil, ground cumin, salt and pepper, toss it all gently to coat the fish and vegetables with the spices and such, then lay lemon slices on top. Then pop it into a 400 degree oven. Want to get started? Here's the recipe:

For a first course, Nicola improvises a salad she learned from Habib's stepmother: sliced oranges with radishes, red onion, cured black olives and mint.

Habib and Thierry are opposed to it. "Anything sweet is dessert," Thierry insists; Habib agrees. Nicola and I feel otherwise: The salty cured olives and perfumey mint are so nice with the oranges, and the salad is refreshing and beautiful.

Are you siding with Nicola and me? Use a small, sharp knife to slice a flat spot on the top and bottom of each orange, then cut down and around the sides to remove the pith before slicing it. 

Here's the recipe:

Happily, Habib has his own Tunisian salad to offer. (The more the merrier!) It's a simple dice of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. Dried mint adds the Tunisian touch, and naturally a dose of good olive oil is involved. Habib uses English hot-house cukes, which he peels, but when I make the salad a few days later to create the recipe, I use small Persian cucumbers, and leave the peel on for a bit more color and texture; I also add Aleppo pepper. You can use either kind of cuke, and any kind of red pepper. Habib and I both used Roma tomatoes, but when we come into tomato season (soon!) I'll make it again with some great heirlooms. 

Habib's Tunisian salad

Habib's Tunisian salad

Oh, another thing: The salad is just right served solo as a starter, but when I recreate it for recipe development purposes, I find myself facing a big bowl of it just as lunchtime rolled around, so I serve it (to myself!) on romaine leaves. That's really nice too, as you can pick up a romaine leaf and eat it with the salad.

Ding! That must be the bouri de Bizerte – ready to serve. Don't forget plenty of crusty bread – you'll want it to sop up those delicious juices! With its gentle spices, it's wonderful with crisp white wine – French Picpoul de Pinet is Habib's favorite with it – or a light red, like a Côte de Rhône. 

I love this dish because you get the wonderful flavor of the fish roasted on the bone, without having to fillet a whole fish at the table, and the saffron and cumin infuses the potatoes and other vegetables with exotic perfume. You do need to remove the bones from each piece and be careful when you eat it – maybe not the dish to serve when you have your boss over for dinner!

"Everybody makes this dish, all over the Mediterranean," says Habib. A slight exaggeration? Perhaps. It's definitely a winner.

Ten-minute dazzler: This ginger vinaigrette turns simple fish into a modern Asian show-stopper

Red snapper with ginger vinaigrette

I wish I could remember exactly what inspired this dish. I'm pretty sure New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten published a recipe for salmon with ginger vinaigrette somewhere, at some point, maybe in the 1990s – was it in a cookbook? A cooking magazine? I can't find any trace of it, no matter how much I Google. Did I dream it?

In any case, what I loved about the sauce was that it starred lots of julienned ginger – more ginger than you usually see on one plate. I made it once, Thierry and I both fell in love with it, and I made it many times after that, tweaking and changing it over the years. Lime juice, fish sauce and scallions (not in the original) now come into play. It didn't take too long to realize it's spectacular on just about any kind of fish: Not just salmon, but tuna, halibut, snapper, scallops, shrimp – even fish with serious personality, like mackerel. 

Did I mention it's super-easy to make, and fabulously healthy? It's ideal for a light and festive dinner for two, or as the centerpiece of an elegant dinner party. 


The genius of it is the ginger vinaigrette, which comes together in no time flat, but you can even make in advance, which is especially handy if you're entertaining. Just whisk together lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, olive oil and toasted sesame oil, then add sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and julienned ginger. If you're making it more than a few minutes ahead of time, wait till the last minute to add the cilantro.

Seared halibut in ginger vinaigrette

Last weekend I found some gorgeous halibut fillets on sale (it's usually so expensive!). After a couple days of seriously exaggerated eating, I wanted to make something light, lovely and easy for a relaxed dinner at home with Thierry. Halibut sounded luxurious, to boot.

It's really easy to overcook halibut, making it kind of dense and hard. But if you salt and pepper it, sear it in an oven-proof skillet in a little hot olive oil (four minutes skin-side up, two and a half minutes skin-side down), then finish it for three minutes in a 400-degree oven, it comes out absolutely perfect: lightly seared on the outside, silky and wonderful on the inside. Its delicate flavor is gorgeous with the ginger vinaigrette, which you just spoon onto a couple plates while the fish finishes in the oven. Set the fillets on top of the sauce when it comes out. 

We had it with roasted asparagus and radishes, which took on a whole new dimension as it crashed happily into the vinaigrette on the plate. Loved it!


But it doesn't have to be halibut, and it doesn't have to be seared. Grilling season is starting, and just about any kind of grilled fish sings with this, from tuna to snapper to mackerel – or skewered shrimp! Ditto fish done in a pan (scallops, salmon) or roasted in the oven (branzino!). 

Intrigued? Here's the halibut recipe:

Or maybe you want to try it with a different kind of fish. And you know what? I'm thinking it would also be great on grilled or seared chicken breasts. Here's the recipe for just the vinaigrette:

Please let us know you you like it!