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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 25

Gapers Block

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I recently had a day where all I could think about was going home and cooking dinner. There were things and people that I was supposed to be concentrating on and all I could think about was trying to remember if I'd taken the chicken breast out of the freezer to thaw for dinner. As the day progressed, I decided that I really wasn't interested in the dinner I'd planned so once I was finally released to my own schedule I went to a grocery store to look at their produce and try to find something that would be very flavorful, require only a few ingredients, and be something I could cook on the grill.

As I was browsing the produce section looking for something interesting, I came across a pile of yucca, or cassava, and wondered how they would taste on the grill. I'd had steamed cassava and fried cassava, but I'd not had grilled cassava. But since they're a root vegetable I decided to take a chance and try grilling it like I would a sweet potato. And now that I had an ingredient that I knew would be slightly sweet, starchy and would taking flavoring well, I figured I had a direction for the rest of my dinner.

Which made me realize that Cuban was an option, which led me to the okra nearby. Grilled okra certainly qualified as simple. And where there is Cuban, there is mojo sauce (pronounced mo-ho) which is very citrusy and tart sauce flavored with garlic and cumin. So I grabbed some oranges and limes and practically skipped to the fish counter. I located some fresh butterfish; even though whole fish has a tendency to ick me out (the eyes and the mouth), the idea of richly flavored fish overpowered my desire to flee from the challenge.

I have written before about how to cook okra as well as how to choose it and prepare it. But I've not written about yucca so here are a few tips. These tubers are usually between 6 and 12 inches long, although I've seen them much longer at some area stores. Pick one that is very firm with no hard or soft spots. Try to find one with skin that isn't dimpled. If possible break or cut off the tip of the cassava (or if it is already cut, cut another 1/2-inch off of it) to make sure there aren't skinny black or brown veins running through it. They have a tendency to go bad from the inside out. Once you get it home you can keep it in a cool, dry place for about a week. Or you can peel it, slice it, cut it into to chunks, cover it with water and keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for two or so weeks. Or you can wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap and store it in the freezer for up to three months.

And the butterfish. I know many people are too squeamish to be able to place an entire fish on their plate and eat it. I can understand that, but I have to say this fish is good enough that it is worth trying to get over your dislike of having your dinner watch you eat it. Our butterfish were not gutted, but I'm sure you could ask the fishmonger to gut it for you. If you're adventurous, it really isn't hard to slice down the belly of the fish and use an index finger to sweep the cavity clean. They're usually only 6-9 inches in length and are far more muscle than cavity. As always, look for fish that have clear eyes and smooth scales. Also, don't hesitate to ask to smell the fish. People may think I'm crazy, but the more a fish smells like fish, and the less it smells like ocean, the less fresh it is and the more gamey and unpleasant the flavor is likely to be. Just because it looks like a fish, doesn't mean it should smell like a fish. Plan on having two fish per serving.

The main flavoring for this meal will be the mojo sauce which can be used on the fish, the cassava and the okra. Or the fish can be marinated in part of it and the rest can be stored for a week or two in your refrigerator. It's great for vegetables, fish, pork, chicken and even beef.

Mojo Sauce
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt (or 1 teaspoon of table salt)
juice from two limes
juice from two oranges
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl or glass jar and stir to combine. This will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Remember that if you wish to use the marinade after you've had meat soaking in it, you have to bring it to a boil before eating it.

Grilled Butterfish
salt and pepper
zest from 1 lime
mojo sauce

Rinse your fish under cold water and remove any remaining bits of innards from the cavity of the fish. Pat them dry. Sprinkle the cavity with salt, pepper and a little bit of the lime zest. Place in a glass casserole dish and cover halfway with the mojo sauce. Let them marinate for at least 30 minutes but no more than two hours. Flip them over halfway through the marinating process. The acids in the sauce will cook the fish if it's left in the marinade for too long. Pour some olive oil on a paper towel and use tongs to rub it across the grill to coat. This will prevent the fish from sticking. Once it is done marinating, remove the fish from the sauce and place in the center of the grill over the coals and let them cook for about 10 minutes on the first side. If you try to turn it too soon, the fish skin will stick to the grill and will peel off as you turn it. If you let it cook long enough, eventually it will release and you'll be able to flip the fish whole. Let it cook on the other side for 10 minutes and baste with the left-over sauce if desired. Move the fish to the outer edge of the grill and let them cook over indirect heat for another 10-20 minutes. This should be enough time to permit the cassava and the okra to cook in the center of the grill. Which will hopefully bring your entire meal to finish at the same time.

Grilled Cassava
1 pound of cassava
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 clove of minced garlic
sprinkle of salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Wash the cassava under very hot water; it is coated with wax to preserve freshness. Peel the skin with a potato peeler or knife. Cut into 4-5" long sections. Cut each section lengthwise into quarters and cut out the middle root stem, which is inedible. If the quarters seem too thick to grill quickly, cut them in half to get eighths. Place them in the boiling water and let them cook for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the water and let them drain in a colander. Combine the oil, vinegar, sugar and garlic in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cassava to the bowl and stir to coat. Place them on the grill over direct heat for about 10 minutes. Turn every 2-3 minutes to prevent burning. As they get close to being cooked (a fork or knife can pierce them easily), sprinkle them with salt and pepper if desired.

Grilled Okra
All ingredients below are per serving
6 okra pods
2 skewers
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1 pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 lemon wedge

Rinse all the okra pods and trim off the stem caps and the tips if they're brown. Place them in a bowl. In a small bowl combine the salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne and oregano. Drizzle the olive oil over the okra pods. Stir the spices together and sprinkle them over the pods. Use your hands to toss the okra pods and coat them evenly with the oil and spices. Use one of the skewers to pierce through six of the pods near the stem end. Use the other skewer to pierce through the pods near the tip. Place them on the grill and cook for about 2-3 minutes over direct heat or 5-6 minutes over indirect heat. Flip them over and use a basting brush to apply the remaining oil and herbs in the bowl. Let them cook on the other side and remove the skewers to a plate. Serve with a lemon wedge for squeezing over the okra just before eating it.

I get inspired while I'm at the grocery store. If I'm not sure what to make for dinner, I wander through a section of the store until an ingredient jumps out at me and helps me narrow down my options so I can pick out what I need to make a meal. Of course, this has backfired when I've waited to long to think about food, and I end up with a rotisserie chicken and frozen vegetables. I sincerely wish that grocery stores had cookbooks (or a computer with internet access) in the produce section so you could pick out a food and then look up possible recipes to help you figure out what to cook.

But the way I got over many of my food hangups (I used to be a very timid eater) was just by trying new ingredients. And while you're not likely to get much help at large chain grocery stores, you may very well get recipe advice at smaller independent stores. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're not sure how to cook something. And if you're open to it, you may even get advice from other people shopping for the same food item. Experiment with new ingredients. You may just never know what will be your new favorite food.

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Joanna / June 25, 2007 11:24 AM

I've never thought of grilling okra, but that sounds delicious. I love it fried or pickled, so I will definitely have to give the grilled version a try.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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