Ask the Chef

April 13, 2005  ...  by Chef John Pisto

Q). My wife and I enjoy "Ask the Chef" very much. Thank you for bringing the wonderful recipes of your life to the Monterey County Herald for all to enjoy. We often catch sardines from the commercial pier and always ask the other fisher persons for tips on preparing them. I was hoping you might share a recipe for barbecued sardines ala Pisto. Our son is attending CUSMB as a freshman this year so we have more excuses to leave the Sierras and fish the bay. We recently subscribed to the Herald to keep up on the aquarium, fishing and of course, your column. We spent a short vacation at the RV park in Marina last year and caught your TV show filmed on board a squid boat. Wow, what a treat to learn

about another of our favorite seafoods.
Claude and Kat Campbell
Via e-mail

A). Grilled Sardines Recipe. Okay fish lovers, next time you catch these babies, keep them really cold on ice or in a refrigerator while you get a wood or charcoal grill going. No need to clean them, just rub with some course salt. So you want to eat them Pisto style? All right - get together some fresh Italian bread, lemons, small tomatoes, cleaned green onions, black olives, a chunk of good Pecorino and some light red wine. When the fire is ready (medium), sprinkle the fish with some Sensational Seasoning or ground black pepper and lay them on the
grill. My brother-in-law Jean Mercurio uses a home made hinged fish basket so he can turn them over easily. Cook until nice and brown on both sides, remove to a large platter and keep cooking. Eating is usually done with everyone just standing around. To eat them, now pay attention, carefully pick up the fish with the head in one hand at the tail in the other and eat like and ear of corn - up one side, then turn over and get the other side. Don't eat the tail, guts, main bone or head and you will end up with a perfect little skeleton. Take a slug of wine, a little bread, onions, etc. Now breathe deep and dig in again. Brother, you got it!


Sunday Morning with an Italian chef. 8:30 am - ahh, the smell of onions, garlic and parsley frying - smelling up the whole neighborhood. Best to get an early start preparing an old fashioned Sicilian Sunday dinner. Luckily, John and Monte Vista Market had some fresh pork shank with the skin on, so all I needed was some Italian sausage and stuff for meatballs. Once the smell of meatballs fills the air, people mysteriously appear. Ground pork, hamburger, garlic, Romano cheese and parsley rolled up (a.k.a. meatballs), frying in a skillet creates an aroma that travels through the house, out the back door and into the cool
morning air. Like my mom, I always make extra so that, before they go into the sauce, there are plenty for tasting. But, on this Sunday, the real trophy is the skin-on pork shanks. After cooking for a couple of hours, the skin becomes silky and soft and melts in your mouth. By the time the meatballs in the sauce are ready, they are so tender they hardly need chewing. Typically, we start with some simple antipasti - asparagus frittata cut in small pieces, sliced salami, tomato and onion salad, roast peppers and some sliced table cheese (this time a young Pecorino). Don't forget the bread and wine. As usual dining is done standing up or walking around the
room with a small plate, priming the pump. Now all eyes are on me cooking the pasta (spaghetti) and this seems to be taking forever. Having counted 15 diners, I ask my sister if I should cook 2 or 3 pounds. She recommends 2 pounds, but I go for 3. While testing the pasta, someone says to cook it soft, another requests al dente. I was shooting for the middle ground. Put out the grated cheese (freshly grated is the only way to go), drain the pasta, add the sauce and all of the meat on a large flat platter and dish up. Sit down and eat - dead silence. Heads down, forks clicking - no talk. I think they like it.


Dear Chef,
We read your comments on the web about people parroting anti-fish farming propaganda. Good on ya! I am attaching our recent press release about our fish. Maybe you would like to give them a try. Catalina Offshore Products from San Diego probably distributes in your area.
Dale Sarver, Ph. D.
Via e-mail

Here is more proof that aquaculture is constantly evolving. You bet I'll try your products, Dr. Dale. Folks, check out their web site and see for yourself ( Responsible, environmentally friendly open-ocean fish farming in Hawaii.
Q). I caught a glimpse of your show either yesterday or Monday. You were on a nature reserve harvesting shrimp and crabs and looking for mushrooms in the woods. Where was that lovely place? Is it public? Thanks.
Via e-mail

A). Yes it's public - all the crab and shrimp you want. Mushrooms for the taking, beautiful scenery and neat people. The place is the state of Alaska!

Q). Wasabi - is it not horseradish (vs. mustard)? That's what I was told overseas.
A). Good question let's take it one at a time. Real wasabi is a Japanese horseradish. It's expensive and difficult to grow. I've tried it and it is delicious but not readily available. It is used fresh and it is usually grated. Wasabi is said to prevent food poisoning and that is why it is served with sushi and slices of raw fish. American wasabi, in the paste or powder form, is western horseradish powder, mustard powder and food coloring. To use, mix the green powder with water and be careful not to breathe too deeply. For more information call Pacific Farms (800) 927-2248.
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