Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #21 - Sicilian oregano

This not so great photo is of some Sicilian oregano which has naturalized itself. That's really a polite way of saying the darn stuff has gone wild. These plants have a history, in that my mother got cuttings from a friend whose grandmother brought them over from Italy with her like a hundred years or so ago. They're supposed to be different from the usual oregano you buy in nurseries here, and it does look a bit different.

Oregano is used extensively in both Italian and Latin American cooking, probably because it goes so well with tomatoes. One of my favorite dishes using oregano is a Vera Cruz-style tomato sauce with olives. The classic dish is made with red snapper, but I also use it with chicken (thighs are best). The leftover sauce is heavenly, and makes a nice meal over rice, with a small salad.

Vera Cruz-style Tomato Sauce

This recipe is supposed to have originated in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Can't prove it by me, but it is one of the most wonderful tomato concoctions I've ever tasted. I am not a fan of cooked tomatoes, so that's saying something. Also, it has two of my favorite things in it - capers and olives.

The fish used should be white fleshed and flake when cooked (red snapper, tilapia, butterfish) - nothing dense like tuna or swordfish. I also use this with chicken thighs. These directions rely on canned and dried ingredients, but use fresh if you have them.

  • 2 cans Readi-cut tomatoes or other stewed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. dried onion flakes
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp. capers
  • 1/2 cup (or more) green, pimento-stuffed olives
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  1. Pour the tomatoes into a skillet or sauce pan over medium heat.
  2. When the tomatoes start to simmer (just below a boil), add the remaining ingredients.
  3. Heat through until you smell the alchohol starting to evaporate.
If you're using this with fish, when the sauce is warmed pour it into a casserole dish and scoot the fish in. Bake at 350F degrees for 20 minutes.

For the chicken, remove the skins from chicken thighs (save them!*) and brown them in an ovenproof pan. When they are browned on both sides but not cooked through, add the sauce ingredients. Cook briefly on the stove so the sauce is heated, then put the whole thing into the oven. Bake at 350F degrees for 30 minutes.

* If you're not afraid of a little saturated fat, these chicken (or turkey or duck etc.) skins have some flavorful uses. You must cook them very slowly, until they have rendered most of their fat. I season the skins lightly on both sides - seasoning depending what I'm in the mood for - then cook them using a bacon press to keep them flat in the pan. If not held down, they will curl into little balls and not give up their fat or come out crispy and delicious.

When you're finished, you'll have some lovely, slightly seasoned chicken fat and some very crispy chicken skin. Break the skin up like crisp-fried bacon and use it in salads, on baked potatoes, and so on, as you would bacon bits. It has much less fat than bacon, none of the chemicals, and tastes great.

Pour off the chicken fat and keep it in the refrigerator or freezer in a closed container. If the container is only partially filled, press a sheet of plastic wrap over the fat to prevent ice crystallization. This lovely, pale golden chicken fat makes the best fried potatoes you've ever had, except, possibly, if you've had ones done with duck fat.

For this week's roundup of herb blogging posts, visit Kalyn's Kitchen. Lots of nice pics, good info and yummy recipes.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger Kalyn said...

I haven't seen or heard of Sicilian Oregano, so thanks for sharing something new. The Vera Cruz sauce sounds like it would be wonderful on fish or chicken.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger b'gina said...

Thinking about it, I bet this would be great with prawns over pasta. You wouldn't need to put anything in the oven, just do the sauce on the stove and throw the shelled prawns in at the last minute. Or add other sea food for a different cioppino or bouillabaise (sp?).

Garlic bread is a must for dealing with the juices leftover on your plate. Darn. I'm making myself hungry. We didn't have any last night, and I definitely missed it.

At 11:21 PM, Anonymous sher said...

How cool to have oregano grdwing in your yard that's over a hunfred years old. Well, it is, in a way. :):) The sauce looks yummy!

At 12:31 AM, Blogger Isil S. said...

Thanks for sharing this!Here in the southeast of Turkey they prepare the Turkish coffee with oregano,I haven't had the chance to try it, but it's said to be tasty.
Your sauce looks great!

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Heirloom herbs - what a wonderful thing! Nice to have special memories when you go out and gather it, too, I bet.


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