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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Eating Las Vegas: A Sustainable Story

In a Las Vegas land where life is writ huge—note the 10,000 square foot hotel suites, giant Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower—it's the little things that got me grinning. Not the massive Viva Las Vegas showgirl production, but the sweet little hotel cleaning lady dancing with her vacuum in a lonely hallway. Not the ever-expanding Strip but the overlooked old downtown-Fremont Street area and its speakeasy-style bars and taverns. Not the huge Luxor pyramid and sphinx, but the midget Elvis inside. Not the endless MGM buffet (though that was good), but a little bite of salmon belly nigiri.

In that nigiri, against a backdrop of record foreclosures and unemployment doubling as a cautionary tale against explosive growth, I found some hope for sustainability.

And hope tasted fantastic. Rick Moonen, the chef-owner behind the salmon, snapping fresh oysters and mouthwatering uni and I lunched on at his RM Seafood, first caught national attention for his groundbreaking work steering people away from endangered swordfish while trendsetting in NYC. The flavor behind, say, his atmospheric ahi tuna duo was already unreal; the fact that he fastidiously sourced the big-eye that went into it is a powerful departure from the wash of sushi joints here and elsewhere that have no regard for fisheries that are threatening to fold worldwide.

I first encountered Moonen’s well-schooled and charismatic campaign for sustainable seafood at the Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions a couple years back. Now the Aquarium authorities have named him 2011’s Chef of the Year.

Xania Victoria Woodman, Vegas icon/writer/editor and bona fide “career carouser,” as her biz card announces, joined me for lunch and later adjourned to the field where Moonen was prepping a “Project Dinner Table” meal for 125 folks sitting at a table 100 feet long in the middle of a field. There she says he somehow dished out whole-roasted Idaho Farms rainbow trout (with Brussels sprouts and double-smoked bacon) from a catering truck for the scores of people of present.

Check out his recipe for chicken-fried trout with green tartar sauce and Asian slaw below–and make plans to marinate more hope at Cooking for Solutions in May. Get more sustainable recipes here.

Chicken Fried Trout (Serves 4)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile paste (sambal oelek)
  • 4 trout fillets (7 ounces each)
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • Corn or peanut oil for frying
  • Green tartar sauce
  • Asian slaw

Combine the buttermilk, onion, scallions, dill, garlic, zest, and chile paste in a baking dish. Whisk or stir well.

Lay the fillets in the marinade, making sure you've got them completely coated. Cover with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to eight hours.

When you're ready for dinner, remove the fish from the marinade and season it with salt and pepper. Coat the fillets well with flour.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy skillet (this is a good time to pull out your cast-iron pan) until very hot but not smoking. Fry the fish in batches for about 1½ minutes on the first side, then turn and fry for another 45 seconds. The crust should be golden.

Drain on paper towels, and serve with the tartar sauce and Asian slaw.