Even in the slow season, many of us have frantic days where eating is almost an afterthought. If we have more than ourselves to feed, it can become a source of stress in itself. So how do we provide healthy meals for ourselves and our families in limited time, without sacrificing health benefits, eye appeal, and flavor? In this ongoing series, Islanders share their quick, go-to recipes. If you have one you’d like to share, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For most Island chefs, family time is a precious and rare commodity. Many, like Kevin Crowell, co-owner and executive chef of Détente in Edgartown and Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs, find that mealtime is the best opportunity to interact with the kids. “We have quite a lot of family time in January and February,” he explains. “Then our life slowly ramps up. So we go from almost vacation time, then it builds and builds up through June and July. It’s crazy. This is a meal we would be cooking now, when we still have time with the kids.” (Détente reopens on Tuesday, May 5, and will host various events for the Martha’s Vineyard Wine Festival during Mother’s Day weekend; Sweet Life Café reopens in mid-May.)
Kevin takes it a step further and includes his 3-year-old son, Tiernan, and 5-year-old daughter, Sienna, in the food prep. “As soon as I start cooking, they jump up on their stools,” he says. “They’re the carrot peelers, the garlic peelers, the onion peelers. They love all that. [They’re the] whiskers, the stirrers of anything.”
Have the two tykes developed a sophisticated palette, being in on the preparation? “It comes and goes,” Kevin explains. “Sometimes they try stuff, and sometimes they’re ‘No asparagus today.’ I try to sneak stuff in and tell them after what they ate. They are, after all, kids.”
Kevin’s been full-time on-Island for about 17 years. “I had a roommate who was a horticulturist here, and she always talked about how great the Island was,” he recalls. “She loved it. She just couldn’t talk enough about it.” He visited her here, and never left. His wife, Suzanna, moved here about the same time, but they didn’t meet until a year later when they both worked at the same restaurant. He’s still grateful to his former roommate for introducing him to the Island. “I loved that she was right,” he says.
Now, with the help of his junior prep cooks, the judicious use of a pressure cooker, and some gourmet-worthy techniques, Kevin is able to prepare Yellowtail Flounder with Farro, Local Kale, and Carrot Sauce from start to finish in about 30 minutes. “It sounds more intricate than it actually is,” Kevin explains. “It’s a high-quality meal that people can have at home.”
He chooses yellowtail flounder because it’s local, relatively inexpensive, and cooks quickly. “A lot of home cooks have a hard time searing fish and getting that crunch,” he cautions. The secret, according to Kevin, is patting the fish dry, flouring the skinless side of the fish, and searing in vegetable oil. “The trick is [that] once the oil starts to smoke — just a whiff of smoke — you know the oil is hot enough. Gently lay your fish down in the oil, and turn the heat down to medium.”
For the farro, the secret is to cook the onion and garlic enough to bring out its inherent sweetness. The garlic should have a nutty aroma. “It becomes more of a background note,” Kevin instructs, “than a punch in the face.”
“The carrot sauce is super-easy,” he continues. “You definitely want to use a blender [rather than a food processor]. You can add butter or olive oil, depending on how rich you want it. You can add knobs of butter, just like you were blending a milkshake. And that’s it. You’re done.”
Of course, it helps having a team of peelers and whiskers.
Yellowtail Flounder with Farro, Local Kale, and Carrot Sauce
1 to 1½ lbs. flounder filets (approximately 5 oz. to 6 oz. per person)
Flour for dusting
Vegetable oil (to barely cover the bottom of the pan)
Salt and pepper
Check flounder filets for any bones, and trim clean. Place large sauté pan on stove over medium-high heat. Pat fish dry with paper towel, sprinkle salt, and dust the top side (not the skin side) with flour right before cooking. Add oil to coat pan and swirl to cover; at first sign of smoke, gently lay floured side of flounder in pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes; reduce heat if there is any sign of burned flour.
Carefully turn over fish with fish spatula. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from pan and pepper (thicker filets may need more time).
Farro and Kale:
1 medium onion
5 cloves garlic
3 Tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
⅔ cup farro
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tsp garam masala (a curry-like spice blend)
4 ounces North Tabor baby kale
Bragg Liquid Aminos, or soy sauce (to taste)
Dice onion and garlic. Add to pressure cooker with olive oil. Sauté until translucent, add farro, stock, and garam masala. Seal and allow to pressurize and cook for 12 minutes. Allow air to vent per manufacturer’s instructions. When safe to open, add kale, stir in, and leaving pressure cooker off heat, re-cover (residual heat will cook kale). Add Bragg’s to suit your tastes.
1 cup water
6 medium carrots, cut to 1-inch chunks
1 tsp curry powder
Grated ginger to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Put all ingredients in covered saucepan. Cook until carrots are tender over medium heat. Purée contents of pan in blender; if it’s too thick, add water to desired consistency. Salt to taste.
To finish, place farro and kale mixture in middle of large bowl. Pour carrot sauce around farro. Lay fish over top. Serve.