Monday, March 23, 2009

Springtime Walleye, Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli

Welcome to my new blog about cooking and eating fresh, homemade foods. The concept is simple: I'll simply publish what I've made for dinner or another occasion each day, along with recipes, techniques, sources for special ingredients, names of favorite cookbooks, etc. I love food and cooking, and have mastered many techniques over the years. I've found that with a little preparation, I can make delicious, even semi-elaborate meals every night, without it taking hours and hours.

I'm a busy guy - a professional career, lots going on. Yet I've made it a priority to cook well and from scratch (or mostly from scratch) pretty much every night. I've decided to start this blog to help others see how they can cook dramatically better food - fresh, delicious, and not too much work. Well, sometimes I go overboard, which you'll see!

I hope you enjoy reading this, and are inspired to try some of these dishes in your own cooking at home! So...let's get started.

At this time of year, I start craving fresh veggies, grilled foods, springtime delights. Dinner tonight was a simple, quasi-seasonal riff on that theme.

Broiled Seasoned Walleye (inspired by the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul)
Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary and Parsley
Boiled Broccoli
(Serving 3 people)

Roasted Potatoes
about a pound of baby red potatoes, cut in quarters
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
fresh parsley, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
generous amount of Kosher salt 1 - 1.5 tsp, or even more
freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 400. Cover a sheet pan (one with sides so the oil doesn't spill) with foil. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly on the sheet pan. Bake until golden brown or even darker (about 30-40 minutes). The keys with this dish are to get enough salt on the potatoes, and to use fresh rosemary and good olive oil. I keep a rosemary plant in the house through the winter because this herb is so important to me.

Boiled Broccoli
2 medium-sized heads of broccoli

I'm going to talk a lot about salt in this blog, starting now. Unless you have hypertension and/or have been told by a doctor to cut back on sodium, salt is your best friend in the kitchen. What separates the pros from the rest of us is proper seasoning (which involves more than salt, but salt is the foundation).

[Tip: I always use Kosher salt. Always. Except rarely when I use sea salt. Kosher salt is chemically equivalent to regular salt, but it is processed into flakes, not granules. This has two benefits. First, it dissolves better, and second it takes more volume to deliver the same quantity of salt. Why is that good? Because it's more forgiving. Every under-seasoned dish can be fixed with a little more salt, but an over-seasoned dish is ruined. I find it's harder to over-season with Kosher salt - though I still do it on occasion!]

People like to steam veggies. I like to gently boil or simmer them in salt water. Alice Waters, in her cookbook on vegetables, says that most veggies should be gently boiled in very salty water - about the salinity of seawater. And that's how I do my broccoli - no butter, no cheese, no lemon, just the pure goodness of broccoli. And my kids go crazy for it. You will too.

So - fill a 2 or 3 quart pan 1/2 full with water and salt it generously. Dissolve the salt, and taste it. It should taste like seawater. If it's not salty enough, add more. If it's too salty, add water. Bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, cut up the broccoli, cutting the flowers into bite-sized pieces with as much (or little) stalk as you like.

[If you've never tasted seawater, try this: gradually add salt to a small bowl of water, fully dissolving the salt and tasting it as you go. The salinity is right when the water tastes quite salty, almost but not quite unpleasantly so - too salty to drink, but in small drops on the tongue, still pleasant. Get used to that flavor - that's what you're shooting for.]

Drop the broccoli into the water, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until beginning to soften but still firm. Watch it carefully! Another mark of a good chef is proper cooking of veggies. Mushy broccoli is not good - better to be a bit on the al dente side. Plus, it will retain heat and cook a bit more after you remove it from the stove. Drain immediately in a colander and place in serving bowl.

Broiled Walleye
1 lb. walleye fillets, de-boned and cut into 3-4" pieces
1/4 c. salted butter, melted
1/2 of a fresh lemon
Seasoning Salt, such as Morton's Nature's Seasonings, or Lawrey's

I go old school on Walleye, ever since eating it at the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul. Good old fashioned seasoning salt and paprika, plus butter and lemon - it just doesn't get any better.

The trick to cooking any fish is getting it done without over-cooking. When I prepare this meal, I get the fish ready while the potatoes are cooking, then switch the oven from bake to broil immediately after removing the potatoes. I keep the oven rack in the middle - not too close to the broiler.

Again, I line a sheet pan with foil (easier clean-up), drizzle a little butter on the foil, arrange the fish, drizzle the remaining butter over the fish, followed by a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a light sprinkle of the seasoning salt and paprika, and on the thicker pieces, I sprinkle a bit more plain salt - not too much...there's salt in the butter, too.

Put them in the hot oven under the broiler and close the door - that way they bake and broil simultaneously. This will brown them slightly on top and cook them through beautifully. Typically, they take about 4-6 minutes - again, watch them. Walleye is done when the fish easily flakes apart and is white all the way through. Test a piece you'll serve to yourself, chef. Remember, the thicker pieces will cook slower.

Timing is almost always a challenge when cooking. You get better at this with lots of practice. For this meal, I do the potatoes first and get them in the oven. Then I trim the broccoli and put the water on to boil. While the water's heating up, I prep the walleye and let it sit until the potatoes come out. I put the broccoli in the water just before I put the fish in. Total time start to finish: 40 minutes.

You'll notice that this dinner is very simple in terms of ingredients and most of the technique. Which dish did I talk about the most? The broccoli...with only two ingredients (plus water) - it's almost 100% technique. The two techniques that matter in this meal are: proper seasoning, and proper cooking time - not over or under-done. These are the two most important techniques to master in all of cooking. Every ingredient will have slightly different requirements for proper seasoning and proper cooking. Mostly, just paying close attention will guide you to the right outcome.


  1. Love the Walleye, going to give this a shot! I like the blog concept. I am going to make Alton Browns Swiss Steak tonight.

  2. Chuck, this is good..... I sense a new career emerging here:)