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Catch of the Day

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

Among the most iconic scenes in Vermont, flotillas of small ice fishing huts appear in midwinter on lakes around the state. On relatively warm days, friends and family sit out on chairs under a clear, crisp sky, strolling over to neighbors to chat and pass the time. During colder spells, anglers huddle cozily in the huts, sipping hot drinks and popping out to check the lines every so often.

For many Vermonters, the tradition of ice fishing is as much about the experience as the resulting buckets of fresh fish, although they do make very good eating. A variety of species can be caught through the holes carved into the thick ice, but yellow perch is the most broadly found, notable for its golden striping and mild, white meat.

Nothing beats just-caught perch fried in bacon fat over a campfire or the classic perch basket at Ray’s Seafood Market in Essex Junction, but an increasing number of restaurants around the state are exploring creative uses for local perch in everything from tacos to chowders. Localvore chefs sometimes lament their distance from the ocean and fresh seafood; today, many recognize that Vermont freshwaters also have fish to share, providing yet another reason to take care of our lakes and watersheds.

Ingredient note: For those not planning to catch their own yellow perch, Ray’s Seafood Market in Essex Junction sells frozen yellow perch fillets year-round. Fish size will vary, but we tested these recipes with one-pound bags, which averaged about 15 two-sided fillets (e.g., a whole fish) per bag.

For information on ice fishing and fishing licenses, go to vtfishandwildlife.com.

The Vermont Department of Health offers guidelines for eating some fish caught in Vermont waters, especially for women of childbearing age and small children. See healthvermont.gov/health-environment/recreational-water/mercury-fish for more details.

Recipes

Cured Perch With Romesco Sauce 

Adapted from executive chef Doug Paine, Bleu and Juniper restaurants, Burlington

Chef Doug Paine created this recipe, inspired by European-style cured sardines, for a dinner celebrating Vermont ingredients at the national culinary landmark James Beard House in New York City. The recipe originally called for grilling the perch, but they can be quickly fried, as detailed below. If you can’t find Turkish Aleppo pepper flakes, try about half the quantity of Spanish smoked paprika. The recipe was conceived as bite-size appetizers, but it also works well as a sandwich on a crusty roll spread with the romesco sauce topped with several fillets and some fresh, crunchy greens.

For perch:

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
(we use Diamond brand; if you use Morton, which has a different shape and density, cut back to
1½ teaspoons)

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons dry herbes de Provence (or equal parts dried thyme,
oregano, and rosemary)

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper flakes

1 tablespoon whole toasted fennel seeds, lightly crushed

4 bay leaves, crushed

1 pound scaled yellow perch fillets, thawed if frozen and patted
very dry

About 1 cup light, neutral oil such
as grapeseed or olive

For romesco sauce:

2 medium-size plum tomatoes (about 8 ounces), cored and roughly chopped

1 large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces), stemmed and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, rosemary, or oregano

1½ teaspoons chopped garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

¼ teaspoon (about 6 grinds) freshly ground pepper

¼ cup blanched, slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

To serve:

Toasted baguette rounds

Herb sprigs

Cure perch: In a medium bowl or container, combine salt, garlic, herbes de Provence, Aleppo pepper, fennel seeds, and bay leaves. Add perch fillets and make sure they are evenly coated with the cure mixture. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Rinse perch and pat dry. Return perch to clean bowl and add enough oil just to cover. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours up to 2 days.

Make romesco sauce: Preheat oven to medium-heat broil with rack in top position. On a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan, toss together all ingredients except almonds and sherry vinegar and spread into one layer. Broil for about 5 minutes and then stir. Broil another 3–4 minutes until vegetables are soft and charred in places. Cool on a rack in pan for about 10 minutes. Scrape vegetable mixture into a blender or food processor. Add toasted almonds and sherry vinegar and blend until smooth. Taste and add salt as desired. Can be kept, refrigerated, for several days.

To cook fish and serve: Prepare a tray of toasted baguette rounds and spread each with a little romesco sauce. Set a large heavy-bottomed, nonstick frying pan, ideally cast iron, over medium heat. Using tongs, pull perch from oil and cook, in batches if necessary, about 1–2 minutes per side until golden and cooked through. Place one half of each fillet pair on a prepared baguette slice and top with an herb sprig. Serve while warm. Makes about 30 appetizers, or about 4 meal-size sandwiches. 

Pan-Seared Perch and Wilted Greens With Warm Maple-Bacon Dressing

Adapted from chef Matthew Pearsall, owner of Vermont Spice of Life Catering and Our House Bistro, Moretown, Winooski, and Plattsburgh

A repeat winner of Lake Champlain International’s Vermont Fish Chowder Championship, chef Matthew Pearsall has even represented the state in the largest chowder contest in the country. For this recipe, Pearsall prefers skinned fillets, but skin-on fillets work fine too, as long as the scales have been removed. He recommends serving the perch and greens with mashed Vermont sweet potatoes.

About 6 loosely packed cups greens such as arugula or spinach, rinsed and spun dry

¾ pound scaled yellow perch fillets, thawed if frozen and patted
very dry

Salt and pepper to taste

6 thick-cut slices bacon (about
6 ounces), preferably maple-cured

Neutral oil such as olive or
grapeseed

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1½ cups mellow Vermont amber or
red ale, such as Long Trail Ale

1 tablespoon maple syrup,
preferably dark

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

Squeeze of lemon juice, optional

Chopped scallions or parsley to
garnish, optional

Place greens in a large, shallow, heat-proof serving bowl or rimmed platter. Season perch well on both sides with salt and pepper. Set a large heavy-bottomed, nonstick frying pan, ideally cast iron, over medium heat and add bacon to pan. Fry bacon until crisp and drain bacon on paper towels, then crumble. Measure fat left in pan. Add enough oil to total 4 tablespoons of bacon fat and oil. Set pan back over medium heat. When hot, add perch fillets to pan, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, starting flesh-side down. Cook for about 1 minute each side until lightly golden and just cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Leave remaining fat in pan, reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic. Cook, 30 seconds, stirring, just until garlic is golden. Add ale, maple syrup, and mustard and increase heat to medium-high. Cook for 4–5 minutes until reduced a bit. Stir in reserved crumbled bacon. Taste and add salt and pepper and lemon juice if needed to balance. Pour warm dressing into bowl over greens, reserving about 3 tablespoons. Toss greens in dressing. Top with perch fillets and drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with scallions or parsley as desired. Serves 2 as a main dish with mashed sweet potatoes or crusty bread; 4 as an appetizer.

Mad River Taste Place Anchors Food Bounty in the Valley

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

  

By Melissa Pasanen

Photographed by Daria Bishop

About an hour before a special event, the Mad River Taste Place team was busy preparing to welcome a crowd of area businesspeople eager to see and taste what was going on in the renovated bank building in Waitsfield’s Mad River Green Shopping Center. Mary Tuthill, retail manager and head cheesemonger, gave a final tweak to a case filled with dozens of offerings from more than 40 Vermont cheesemakers. Erika Lynch of Babette’s Table, maker of Vermont-sourced, European-style cured meats, sliced a variety of her hams for platters. Vermont-made spirits, hard ciders, beers, and wines were ready for tasting, along with locally crafted chocolates and naturally leavened breads.

The new tasting center and retail store is the brainchild of Robin Morris, also president of the Mad River Food Hub incubator and processing facility located just a few hundred yards away. Over his years working to support the production, storage, and distribution needs of the area’s burgeoning food and beverage sector, Morris concluded that “the marketing of the makers is the missing link.” His vision for the Taste Place is to provide a high-profile, centralized tasting, education, and shopping opportunity to help build demand for both Mad River Valley and Vermont food and drink.

While some might pigeonhole the Mad River Valley as a winter sports destination, economic vitality studies revealed that “food was one of the leverage points, one of our major assets,” explained Josh Schwartz, executive director of the local planning district. This was no surprise to those on the front line like Kim Donahue, co-owner of The Inn at Round Barn Farm. “I love this space, and I love what it is going to do for the Valley,” Donahue said, gesturing around the wood-raftered, light-filled room where shelves and coolers overflow with local jams and pickles, freshly roasted coffee and granolas, maple candies and sought-after craft brews. “It gives us traction, the ability to really anchor our spot in the food world.”

The Taste Place is also the first permanent home of the Vermont Cheese Council, whose executive director, Tom Bivins, has an on-site office from which he can pop out to check on the best Vermont cheese selection in the state. The former chef and culinary instructor has been integral to the state’s food scene for three decades. “I’ve been advocating for a tasting place in Vermont for years,” Bivins said. “The growth has been just incredible, not just in quantity but in quality. This is a great central location where our cheeses and all the other products are presented in a way that really gives them an opportunity to shine. It’s an asset not only for the Valley but for the whole Vermont food and drink community.”

Beyond stocking a wide range of Vermont products to buy and take home, the Taste Place also offers tasting boards of cheese, meats, and condiments, along with local beers on tap and flights of Vermont ciders and wines. Large photographic portraits, a video loop of cheesemaker interviews, and detailed product labels all help tell the backstory, an important ingredient in building a following for Vermont’s premium products. The retail team led by Tuthill — a trained chef with deep experience in restaurants and food retail — can make recommendations and share information on everything they carry. Tuthill also manages a robust calendar of maker-presented tastings and workshops. “I think I’ve met every single person I’m buying from,” she said, “like Erika of Babette’s, I know for a fact we’re helping to build her business and support her family. It’s the coolest thing to be a part of.” Not to mention, Tuthill added, “We sell all the stuff that makes people happy.”

Vermont Snack Bars: High-End Chefs Shake It Up

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Pasanen
Photo by Daria Bishop

As kids growing up in Vermont, Chloe Genovart and Charlie Menard enjoyed their share of summertime snack bar fries and frosty creemees. Each went on to become successful culinary professionals serving the high end of the dining spectrum instead. After years spent in Manhattan, Genovart and her husband opened the elegant SoLo Farm and Table in South Londonderry; Menard built up the event catering operation at the romantic Inn at Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield. At these two destinations, menus feature beautifully composed dishes like hand-cut tagliatelle with house-made lamb sausage, or halibut finished with a tangerine-miso glaze.

Last summer, both added second venues that deliver something different: decidedly casual and exceptionally delicious versions of the classic snack bar. At the Genovarts’ Honeypie in Jamaica and Menard’s Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield, their sophisticated gastronomic skills and local-sourcing priorities are applied to perfecting burgers, lobster and clam rolls, and Vermont’s iconic soft-serve ice cream. “I’ve always had a love of this kind of Americana, the roadside snack bar, from clam shacks along the ocean to the creemee stands of Vermont,” says Menard.

“It’s a good way to get good food to a wide range of people,” says Wesley Genovart, Chloe’s husband. “On our days off, this is how we like to eat,” he adds.

Canteen Creemee Company occupies the brightly painted end of a shopping center in Waitsfield and offers a chalkboard menu divided into “Salty” and “Sweet”; a turntable plays the chef’s own vinyl collection, from Rolling Stones to current indie bands. The menu, too, is a blend of old and new. There’s a very good burger, with optional toppings, including everything from caramelized onions to kimchi, and excellent freshly cut fries that can be ordered “dirty,” meaning confettied with nuggets of shredded brisket, bacon or pickles. The fried chicken boasts an incredible crisp crust thanks to a secret “miracle dredge” (also deployed on the crunchy “chicken-fried” onion rings); it’s worth ordering just for the rich corn pudding — really a very moist cornbread — on the side. Other highlights include a stand-out vegetarian falafel burger and fried whole belly clam roll with house-made tartar sauce.

Creemees are a big thing here. Menard starts with the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery base, “then we have our way with it,” adding real ingredients like pure maple, fresh ginger, Belgian chocolate, local blueberries and honey. The rotating flavors rarely include vanilla. It’s a risk, Menard acknowledges, but “this isn’t a vanilla kind of place,” he says, paraphrasing a customer comment. The sometimes wildly creative “next level” sundaes include the relatively tame Bad Larry’s Maple Madness topped with a fluff of maple cotton candy, maple crystals and sugar cookie crumbs all the way to Grandma’s Summer Harvest, featuring a honey creemee, diced zucchini bread, crème fraîche drizzle, tomato jam, freeze-dried corn and fresh basil.

Honeypie in Jamaica is located in an old convenience store/gas station and uses recycled materials as décor: standing-seam roofing serves as wall panels. Unlike Canteen Creemee Company, which is open regularly only May through October, Honeypie is year-round. Customers can eat in or sit outside at tables where the pumps once were.

You could argue that the Genovarts had to open Honeypie just to have somewhere to serve Wesley’s ideal burger, which he’d been working on for years. The final combination of ground short rib and chuck is a thing of beauty and starred on the cover of Food & Wine magazine before Honeypie even opened. The Bring It is the chef’s personal favorite: a double patty with kimchi, bacon, “special sauce” and melted American cheese. Another burger offering, the Slamber, stacks two ground lamb patties with melted cheddar and sautéed peppers and onions.

The Slamber is a delicious example of how the Genovarts use whole, local animals efficiently across both restaurants, leveraging both staff and the expanded production space. Honeypie’s sausages are also made in-house and go global with lamb merguez, Spanish chorizo and a pork sausage version of a Vietnamese banh mi. Other sandwiches include the Late Riser with egg, house-made maple-bacon breakfast sausage and rosemary hash browns and an outstanding weekend special lobster roll, generously piled with sweet meat, shaved celery and drawn butter.

On the sweet side, Honeypie’s milkshake menu stands out. Flavors include strawberry-buttermilk made with local berries and buttermilk left over from freshly churned butter made for their other restaurant, and coffee made from fresh-roasted beans from the coffee shop across the street. The milkshakes start with a rich base from Kingdom Creamery in East Hardwick, which is also used in their traditional chocolate and vanilla creemee menu. With two young children, the Genovarts wanted to make sure that their menu covered the basics — even though their two-year-old daughter’s favorite menu item is the lamb merguez sausage. Overall, says Chloe Genovart, “We just wanted to have a nice place for kids and families and community.”

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