May 21, 2009
One October weekend my husband went fishing in Maryland with his brother and brother-in-law. Sea bass were running that day and each returned with three dozen fish. Most were medium sized and we ate sea bass every Monday until we turned blue in the face.
By May only one remained — but it weighed five pounds. That fish was so long, it fit only by placing it diagonally across my freezer.
“What are we going to do with this monster?” I asked my husband.
“Shavuot’s coming,” he said. “Let’s barbecue it.”
“Give people grilled sea bass instead of bagels and lox?” I said. “They’ll rebel.”
“If I barbecue it, they will eat,” he said.
Reluctantly I decided to serve the bass, but only as an extra item on the menu. The day before Shavuot, I purchased smoked fish in abundance for the 20 people we had invited for brunch.
To my surprise, our guests relished the grilled fish dish, leaving only the bones and the serving platter. Of course, they consumed hefty portions of bagels and lox, too, but they couldn’t stop raving about that barbecued bass.
While most American Jews celebrate Shavuot at brunch time, often serving blintzes, egg casseroles, and smoked fish, such fare is compatible with just about anything you can think of to grill.
It’s unclear why dairy foods are traditionally served at Shavuot. Over the centuries, several theories have been posited. Some historians claim that when the Children of Israel returned to their campsite with the Torah, they were too tired and hungry to roast meat, which then was a time-consuming proposition. Others believe the ancient Israelites, who had just received the laws of kashrut, needed time to kosher their utensils and so a quick dairy meal had to suffice.
While the whiteness of milk traditionally has been compared to the purity of the Torah, it was almost inevitable, given the Jewish palate, for a dairy menu to arise, encompassing cheeses and smoked fish.
With Shavuot falling a little late this year — the two-day festival begins the evening of May 28 — barbecue season will be in full swing. This would be the perfect year to introduce such fare as a break from the holiday’s traditional menu (or in addition to bagels and lox). As Shavuot approaches, I picture the holiday falling on a spectacular sunny day with the temperature hovering around 70. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain. However, in case of inclement weather, anything that can be barbecued can be prepared inside.
Note: To avoid food from sticking, spray the grid with no-stick spray before lighting the grill, following the safety measures below.
- To prevent food from sticking to the grill, coat it with a no-stick spray before lighting the grill. You can cause an explosion by spraying no-stick products onto a hot grill.
- Never leave a grill in use unattended.
- Keep the grill cover nearby at all times in case of a flare-up.
- Drain excess oil from food before placing on a grill. Excess oil, or untrimmed fat on meat, can cause flare-ups.
- Use long-handled barbecue utensils and fire-resistant mitts.
- After you’ve finished barbecuing, turn off gas or electric grills. Cover all grills to ensure that the fire dies quickly.
Recipes have not been tested by New Jersey Jewish News; therefore, the staff may be unable to answer readers’ questions.
BRUSCHETTA (Grilled Bread)
2 to 3 jumbo-sized cloves of garlic
1 loaf of Tuscan, sourdough, or peasant bread, cut into 1/4" slices
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, poured into a small bowl
Accompaniments: 1 pound ricotta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and black olives, preferably not canned
Peel garlic cloves and gently press down on them with the flat side of a chef’s knife to release the flavor. With a brush, spread oil on both sides of bread slices. Rub a garlic clove on the top and bottom surface of every slice of bread.
Place slices on a preheated outdoor grill or a ridged stovetop griddle on a medium flame. Grill for two to five minutes per side, or until grid marks appear on bread. Remove from heat and immediately rub both sides of each slice with garlic again. Cut large slices into two to three pieces. Serve immediately with accompaniments.
Yield: 15 to 20 pieces.
2 pounds asparagus
olive oil for drizzling
kosher salt to taste
Place asparagus on a platter. Snap off fibrous ends and discard. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Barbecue method: On a medium flame, grill spears for five minutes per side, about 10 minutes in all, until they’re crunchy brown. Serve immediately.
Oven method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Move asparagus to an ovenproof pan coated with no-stick spray. Roast asparagus, turning every few minutes, until spears are crunchy brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yield: Six servings.
4 wooden or metal skewers
16 small white mushrooms (cut larger mushrooms in half)
1 yellow pepper, cut into 1" squares
1 red pepper, cut into 1" squares
2 medium zucchini, cut into slices 1/2" thick
1/2 cup olive oil, or more, if needed
kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, leaves
no-stick spray, if using
Using skewers, pierce through the center of a mushroom, yellow pepper square, zucchini slice, and a red pepper square. Press together tightly. Continue filling skewers in the same way until vegetable pieces are gone. Leave an inch at each end of the skewer for handling. Place skewers on a platter. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt, garlic powder, and dried oregano.
Barbecue method: Grill on a medium flame for five minutes, then turn skewers using flame-retardant mitts, especially when handling metal skewers. Grill for another five minutes or until vegetables brown. Peppers may blacken at edges. Serve immediately.
Oven method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a 10-by-15-inch ovenproof pan with no-stick spray. Arrange skewers in pan and place in oven. Use oven mitts to turn skewers after 20 minutes, and roast for another 20 minutes, until vegetables brown on the outside. Peppers may blacken at edges. Serve immediately.
Yield: Four servings.
GRILLED SEA BASS
2 pounds sea bass
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground curry
2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Have the fishmonger clean the fish, keeping the head, tail, bones, and skin attached (you want a whole fish). At home, rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place remaining ingredients (except no-stick spray) in a bowl, stirring to make a paste. Coat fish inside and out with the paste. Place fish in a plastic bag and refrigerate four hours.
Barbecue method: Spray grill with no-stick spray before lighting fire. Place fish on preheated grill. Turn after seven minutes and barbecue for another seven minutes, or until fish skin browns and inside is cooked through. Test for doneness by inserting a knife between bones at the spine. If the fish flakes, it is ready.
Oven method: Preheat broiler. Coat broiler pan with no-stick spray. Place fish on prepared pan and move to the broiler. Every five minutes, remove fish from broiler and turn it using two non-metallic spatulas. Broil for a total of 20 minutes, or until skin is crunchy brown and inside is cooked through, testing for doneness as above.