Chef Tim Says...

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Chef Tim Says....

The Mediterranean Sauce Kit

Halibut over steamed asparagus

There are a few nights a month where I really don't have time to cook. I need something simple to put together and this usually takes the form of a quick Mediterranean sauce. I can use this on almost anything - fish, beef, pork or pan roasted chicken. I have started a few times to write up these recipes but each time I make theme they are a little bit different. There is a pattern to how I create this, however.

I always start by placing a large skillet in the oven and preheating it to about 375°F. This is the pan that I will roast the protein in, making it easy to cook the meat but also allowing for simple clean up. I set the olive oil spray next to the oven because I will need it in a bit.

Next is to place a large non-stick skillet on the range top to make the sauce. I begin with the best quality olive oil. In many cases I don't cook with my better quality oils generally saving them for salads and such. This will be the foundation of the sauce, however, so I want the best flavor. I generally start with about a tablespoon for two servings.

The second step is garlic or onions (or both). I will often use a single clove of garlic along with some sliced or minced shallots. Very thinly sliced red or white onion cooked slowly and allowed to caramelize is delicious as the beginning of a topping for your steak or fish.

I like a little texture and pine nuts or pumpkin seeds put in the pan before the onions is a great choice. Let them toast just a bit before adding the garlic or onions to bring out the most flavor. This does add some fat but keep in mind that the nuts and seeds are good, monounsaturated fats.

A favorite ingredient I have is a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes. They are generally great year ‘round, having a fresher, more tomatoey flavor than larger varieties like romas. I cook them along with the onions or garlic so that they will brown a bit on the outside before crushing them to allow the added liquid for the sauce. Alternatively, a tablespoon of tomato sauce with just a bit of water will make for a rich, savory sauce.

I love adding something tart. By starting with the sweetness of the onions, the savory nuts and tomato, balancing with ingredients like capers or olives is just right. It doesn't take much. A tablespoon or so of capers or 4 diced olives is enough. I especially love the little red pepperoncini that I get from the olive bar at the grocery store. They add both the tartness I am looking for and a bit of spice.

All of the ingredients should be sautéed together over medium heat at the most. The goal is to have a blend of flavors that can still be tasted separately. Overcooking will spoil the topping. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt as well as some pepper. Using one of your favorite herbs in small amounts will add a lot of flavor. I generally focus on a single herb and use fresh whenever possible.

While the topping is cooking and after the oven is preheated spray the skillet lightly with oil. Place the meat or fish in the pan to sear and cook for between 10 and 20 minutes depending on what you have chosen. Your sauce will be equally good over seared flank steak as well as halibut or salmon. A pan roasted chicken breast is perfect as well.

Depending on my choice of ingredients I will sometimes use about a teaspoon of unsalted butter to add richness to the sauce.

Here's a table to help you make some new combinations:

Base Extras Liquid Tartness Flavorings
1 clove garlic sliced 8 cherry tomatoes 1/4 cup chicken stock or white wine 1 Tbsp. capers 1/4 tsp. salt
1 large shallot (minced or sliced) 1 ounce prosciutto 2 tsp. coarse ground mustard 6 black or green olives (coarsely chopped) Black pepper
1 small red onion (sliced) 2 Tbsp. nuts or seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, pecan pieces, etc.) 1 teaspoon unsalted butter 4 pepperoncini 1 Tbsp. fresh herbs
6 scallions (sliced) 1 Tbsp. tomato paste 1 Tbsp. maple syrup   2 tsp. coarse ground mustard

When the meat or fish is done, simply top it with the sauce. We have a lot of alternatives for side dishes that are also super simple here: Sides and Extras.

It takes some time to stock your kitchen, but you can purchase one or two ingredients each time you are at the grocery. After a while your kitchen will be stocked for a healthy, quick, easy, delicious and elegant meal.