Pasternack's dishes reflect passion for sea

NEW YORK Wed Jun 20, 2007 8:51am EDT

1 of 2. Shown is Shrimp a la Plancha from 'The Young Man & The Sea' (Artisan, 2007). When he's not cooking them, chef David Pasternack is catching fish along Long Island in New York where he grew up and still lives.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When he's not cooking them, chef David Pasternack is catching fish along Long Island in New York where he grew up and still lives.

His cuisine reflects his passion for the sea and the seafood dishes served in his restaurant, Esca, earned Pasternack the James Beard Foundation award for best New York City chef three years ago.

Pasternack shares his knowledge and recipes in his first cookbook, "The Young Man & The Sea" which was co-written with Ed Levine.

He recently spoke about his fondness for fish with Reuters:

Q: What inspires your passion about seafood?

A: "I just grew up on the water. I was off on Monday and I fished on Monday. It's an activity that I grew up doing. I still enjoy doing it. It's a fascinating place, the sea."

Q: What is the best way to prepare seafood dishes in the summer?

A: "The easiest thing to do is to grill fish. I like to use charcoal to add a little flavor. Some people who don't have that option can use a grill pan or on the stove.

It depends where you live. Here on Long Island this time of the year, we have striped bass, blue fish and porgies. We have a lot of flukes. I prefer my fish fried and eat them at room temperature."

Q: How do you interest children in eating seafood without frying or drowning the fish in sauces?

A: "You've got to start them young. That's the only thing I could tell you. My daughter eats fish and she's going to be three. I tell her I caught the fish. That works very well. She gets very excited - "Oh Dad caught the fish."

Q: With all food prices going up, any tips for the budget-friendly but delicious way to prepare a seafood dish?

A: "Fish has gone up 25 percent in the past year. There are mackerels and porgies. I eat wild salmon. Farm salmon is still fairly reasonable if you want to go that route. Tuna has actually been very high. Swordfish has actually been pretty reasonable. Striped bass is in season right now so it's pretty reasonable."

Q: What do you cook for yourself when you are alone?

A: "I usually eat stuff my wife won't eat. There's a guy by my house who makes homemade sausages. I like to make Bucatini (a thick spaghetti-like pasta).

Shrimp a la plancha with fava bean puree - Serves 4

A plancha is essentially a hot iron griddle that cooks things quickly while sealing in the flavor. Substitute white beans when fava beans are not in season (spring).

Use a cast-iron fry pan whenever you are making anything a la plancha. Or any fry pan that can get really, really hot.

Ingredients:

- 2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled

- sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

- 1 pound medium white shrimp, shells on, split down the back, vein removed

- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus high-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

- 2 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat of a knife blade

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook until very tender, four or five minutes. Drain the beans in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the cooking water. Remove the outer skin from each bean.

Transfer the beans and most of the reserved water to a food processor and pulse until nearly smooth. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pulse until smooth. If the puree is still lumpy, add a drizzle more of the cooking water to smooth it out.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil in a large, cast-iron skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and cook until softened, about two minutes. Add the shrimp, in two batches if necessary, and cook for about three minutes per side. The shells should be pink and the flesh opaque.

To serve, spoon about 1/2 cup of the fava puree onto each of four serving plates. Drape the grilled shrimp across the puree, and then finish with a sprinkling of salt, ground black pepper and a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

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