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Stuffed to the Gills

Seafood-stuffed oranges blend delicate flavors of citrus, white miso and shellfish

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If you're celebrating the Feast of Seven Fishes or simply want to add flair to your holiday spread, take inspiration from dishes at Vietnamese, French or Creole restaurants. Though much of the fare can be starchy and heavy on sodium and fat, there are often creative twists on mainstays like salads or appetizers. So don't just eat at restaurants; mine them for ideas — especially the restaurants you assume are off-limits for health-conscious diners.

  Seafood-stuffed oranges are inspired by an appetizer that makes the occasional appearance on Cafe Minh's (4139 Canal St., 482-6266) menu for special events like New Year's Eve dinners. Dramatic and elegant, the shellfish is combined with a delicate miso sauce and baked in an orange.

  "Seafood is so delicate, you don't want to kill it," says Cafe Minh chef Cynthia Tran. "Then you bake it and it's magical."

  Seafood-stuffed oranges serve as an excellent addition to a holiday spread. The seafood and sauce can be prepared and chilled in advance, and the recipe provides enough oranges for ambrosia. Also, any leftover seafood and sauce creates ample leftover fodder — mix with whole wheat udon noodles or drain the liquid and add low-fat mayonnaise to create an Asian seafood salad. The remaining liquid can be used for a marinade or salad dressing. Because orange sizes vary widely, this dish requires some experimentation.

  For cooks devoted to interesting health food, the recipe bestows several year-round lessons:

  • Many international dishes with sweet traditions can be given a savory twist. For example, oranges provide housing for a classic Sicilian dessert with almonds, Grand Marnier and whipped cream. This seafood-stuffed orange recipe uses notes of orange and delicate white miso to lend sweetness without resorting to sugar.

  • Miso is a wonder food. Consisting of fermented soybeans combined with barley or rice, miso paste stays good for years when refrigerated and can stand in for salty bouillon cubes. People monitoring their sodium intakes should be wary, but miso offers substantial flavor and nutrition that table salt does not: protein, fiber and vitamins B-12 and zinc, all with minimal calories.

Seafood-Stuffed Oranges with Miso

Inspired by a dish served at Cafe Minh. Recipe by Russ Lane.

12 large oranges

2 1/2 pounds seafood (any combination of shrimp, scungilli, scallops, lobster, whitefish chopped to shrimp size)

1/4 cup shiro (white) miso

3 cups dashi (Japanese soup stock), seafood stock, or 1 cup chicken broth and 1 cup water

1/4 cup mirin (cooking rice wine)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 cloves roasted garlic

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (about 1/2 inch stalk)

2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bring a pot of hot water to a boil, and prepare a bowl of ice water. While waiting for the water to boil, remove the tops of each orange and scoop out flesh with a spoon. Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of juice and save the fruit for another use, such as ambrosia. Place oranges in a pan or baking sheet.

Once the water boils, add seafood and cook for one minute. Immediately spoon seafood out of the boiling water and into cold water. Once the seafood is completely cooled, remove it from the water and drain on paper towels.

Add dashi, miso, mirin, vinegar, garlic and ginger to a pot and warm over medium heat, stirring to combine. Adjust the flavor, consistency or intensity by adding miso, stock or vinegar. Do not let the mixture boil. In a small bowl, mix egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of the liquid. Once combined, add yolk mixture to the pot and stir to combine and thicken. Remove from heat. Combine seafood and sauce and ladle into oranges. Bake for 15 minutes, until tops appear golden.

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