Last week I went to a local supermarket not knowing I wanted to cook for dinner. I grabbed a cart and went on my usual route through the market. I always begin by gravitating towards the deli and produce.
On the way, I walked past the impulse dinner idea display. They ware displaying fresh (never frozen) pasta, and offered several to choose from. Ravioli stuffed with Italian sausage and ricotta cheese made its way into my cart. I pushed forward to the deli and stopped at the specialty cheese section.
I selected some shaved Parmesan, and then began to wonder what wine should go with it. My immediate thoughts leaned towards a full-bodied red like a Washington State Cabernet. Then I thought about fish and decided that I was going to go to the seafood section and see what was available fresh. I arrived at the monger’s counter display and decided on flounder, because it looked the best.
Here’s what I mean by “looked the best When I look at a display of fish for sale, I don’t want to see fish fillets showing what look like beads of sweat. That’s a direct indication of previously frozen fish, sometimes called “refreshed” fish. That means the fish was processed and frozen on the boat right after harvest, then later brought back up to 41 degrees in a walk-in cooler.
The problem with frozen fish is that it always does some damage to the muscle cells. Freezing water crystallizes into ice. This crystallization process causes some cells to burst. When they’re thawed, the moisture inside leaks out. That’s what those sweat beads are — they’re the fillet losing moisture.
Now, if frozen fish is what you have, then “refreshing” isn’t a bad thing. You can do it at home. Pull your frozen fish out of your freezer the day before you want to cook it and place it as close to the door of your fridge as possible to ensure it’s thawed when you’re ready to cook it.
In this case, I was looking at a mix of fresh and previously frozen fish that was ready to be cooked. The flounder wasn’t purging moisture and was priced at the budget I had in mind, so I asked for a fillet of it and off I went.
Now I had a direction of what I wanted to cook. I had some cheese, sausage-stuffed pasta, and a fillet of fresh flounder. I went left when leaving the seafood section and walked past the dairy. That reminded me that I had a some cream in my fridge, so that made me think about white wine instead of red.
I made my way back to the produce section, looking for mushrooms. I found a fresh wild mushroom blend that was already sliced. I realized I’d want some acidity to go into this dish to stand up to whatever wine I ended up with, so I found some baby heirloom tomatoes.
I then went to the wine section. I had just built a recipe for a good dinner in my head based off what was in my cart, and I wanted a white that was full-bodied to stand up to the cream and pasta. I looked for a Chardonnay that was well oaked.
A lot of folks are mystified by what a full-bodied wine is. Think about the weight of a beverage in your mouth. Water is the lightest beverage you drink. Water is light-bodied. How about milk? It’s a lot thicker, heavier in your mouth. Milk is full-bodied. Now, most wines aren’t going to be as full-bodied as milk, but you get the idea.
Another thing to consider about the wine you choose is getting the best value. Doing that will take a few minutes, but it’s worth the effort. First, decide on your budget. In the world of wine, it isn’t always the best idea to buy the most expensive one available. Just decide on a number then start looking at labels.
Here’s what I mean by looking at labels: Some wine might just have California on the label telling you where the grapes came from to make that wine. I tend to shy away from them unless I know that vintage was good. So I then look for labels that indicate smaller, more specific areas of where the grapes came from.
Really, I try to find a wine within my budget that is a single-vineyard bottling. Small vineyards are like small farmers right here. They usually are a single-family farm that raises grapes and sells them to wineries (or a juice maker if the sugar levels aren’t right). Spend a few more minutes in the wine section reading labels, and you might find a great bottle at a good value.
I decided on a 2016 Chardonnay from Columbia Valley in Washington. It was $12. I checked out and made my way to my truck, with visions of a delicious dinner to come dancing through my head.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.
Flounder with Ravioli
4 8-ounce flounder fillets
2 pounds stuffed ravioli
2 tbsp cooking oil
8 ounces fresh wild mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp truffle oil
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1 tsp fresh chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat water to cook the pasta. In another sauce pot, sauté the mushrooms with cooking oil. Add the garlic, followed by the thyme and heavy cream. Bring to a low boil, then turn down to a slow simmer. While its simmers, add the pasta to your boiling water and salt it. Now heat a sauté pan to medium-high. Add your flounder and sear on each side for 3 minutes. Add the parmesan to your reducing cream sauce. Your pasta should be cooked by now. Remove it and plate the pasta, then spoon the mushroom cream over it. Top with the flounder and a truffle oil drizzle. Serves 4.
— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com