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Sicilian-Style Seafood Pasta with shrimp, clams and mussels.
By Jeff Stearns | STAFF
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All things seafood
By Kathleen Ostrander

Fish -- glazed, fried, poached, baked or broiled -- tastes great, but a cooking mistake can ruin it. There are ways to make sure the catch of the day doesn't end up in the trash.

Luckily for Springfield-area residents, Robert's Seafood Market can supply not only the best raw material for an elegant fish feast, but also nearly anything else needed from butter and breading to wine and dessert.

"You have to start with good fish," said Robert's manager Brian Aiello. With advances in freezing and transportation, a flash-frozen piece of fish can cook up with as much flavor and character as a just-caught fish. The trick is to know your fishmonger, Aiello said with a smile.

"We specifically use a variety of suppliers," Aiello said. "We can negotiate to get a good price, but more importantly, to ensure quality. Quality is really number one.

"We can get most anything that you may want for a dinner party within a day or two. We advise you to call and/or even bring in the specific recipe. If we can't get exactly what the recipe calls for - because it might not be available depending on the time of year - we can tell you what will work."

Indeed, the cases at Robert's are filled with an amazing variety of fish and shellfish, from salmon and grouper to halibut and mussels. Such a variety may seem intimidating to some cooks, but remain calm -- Robert's is here to help.

"Don't overlook a good recipe because you may not have cooked that type of fish before," advises Aiello and Kent Morris, the executive chef on call for Robert's.

Both said the biggest problem cooks have with seafood is overcooking. "All those recipes that say cook until it flakes. That means it's overcooked," Morris said. "The fish continues to cook once removed from heat so if it's flaking on the heat, by the time you remove and plate it, it's overcooked."

"Two things," advised Morris. "Don't skimp on the quality and don't overcook. Five more minutes means overdone. People get really frustrated when they ask how long to cook something, and I say until it's done. The size of the portion and the type of heat make the difference. The higher the heat, the shorter the cooking time. Cooking salmon for 25 minutes at 350 degrees ruins it. Eight minutes at 400 degrees, and it's moist and done," Morris said.

For trendy elegance, you can't beat seafood, Aiello said. "Chilean sea bass is the 'in' fish," Aiello said. "We can fix you up with a surf and turf combo -- something like scallops, and we have certified Angus beef."

Morris said a dinner party with seafood doesn't mean a cook is stuck in the kitchen while the hors d'oeuvres and wine is going around. "Have everything you can prepared beforehand. Fish cooks quickly, so then it's just a matter of execution and finishing."

Robert's can help with a dinner party even if elk patties, duck or duck sausage, prime rib, squid, frog legs or pheasant are on the menu. They can supply everything needed for a fish boil or clam bake. In the summer they will stock fresh produce and herbs from around Springfield. They also will do custom smoking of fish.

They also have a large selection of soups including lobster with sherry and all manner of unique utensils needed for crab cracking or optimum caviar service.

From wine pairing to portions per diner, Robert's can help, Aiello said. "We call ourselves Springfield's best kept secret because people don't realize all the things we have. Once they shop here, they are hooked."

Be seafood savvy

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your seafood:

  • Ask your fishmonger where their  fish is from. How was it transported and stored? How long has it been out of the water, and has it been frozen and then thawed?
  • Most fresh fish will hold up nine to 10 days after being taken from the water if stored and handled properly.
  • A good seafood market will be able to order what you want with a day or two's notice.
  • Fish should look vibrant and shiny - its eyes should be clear. It should have a sea or ocean odor and not a fishy smell.
  • Certain fresh shellfish should be alive. Mussels, clams and unshucked oysters should be closed.
  • Frozen fish should be kept at 0 degrees consistently. Fresh should be within 35 to 40 degrees. When taking fish home from the store, bring ice and a cooler or ask for ice at the store. Fresh fish should be removed from a wrapper if it is not being used immediately and it should be quickly rinsed in very cold water and then placed on a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and remove from the refigerator 15 to 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Frozen fish should be thawed no longer than overnight. If flash frozen, quick thaw in the sealed package in cold water 30 to 40 minutes before cooking. Do not let flash frozen fish slow thaw in the package longer then 18 hours.


Just desserts

Robert's Seafood Market can even help with dessert. Connie DiCenso, president of CoCo Pies and Confectioneries Inc. whips up her mouth-watering, calorie-laden creations in the market kitchen.

Although she has pies and baby cakes on hand, she advises shoppers to call ahead to make sure a specific pie is available.

Pie selections include peanut butter, coconut cream, triple chocolate mousse, apple crunch, old-fashioned cherry, sour lemon cream, raspberry mousse, peach custard pecan crunch, strawberry white chocolate mousse, pecan, chocolate pecan, pumpkin mousse, pumpkin and peppermint cream.

The newest CoCo creations are baby cakes. They are available by the half-dozen in five different flavors: lemon zest, dark chocolate fudge, vanilla bean, fresh pineapple and cherry almond.

DiCenso also can supply fresh brownies or gourmet cookies.

For more information, contact DiCenso at 553-4005 or e-mail her at connie@cocopies.com. Her Web site is www.cocopies.com




Do try this at home: Entertain with these seafood recipes

First course

Smoked Salmon Salad with Pears and Gorgonzola

12 ounces fresh baby greens

4 fresh Seckel pears

4 ounces cold smoked salmon (pre-sliced)

½ pound Gorgonzola cheese

Poppy seed dressing

Rinse the baby greens and arrange on four serving plates. Set aside and keep chilled. Peel and cube the pears, using one pear for each serving. Separate the smoked salmon and roll one portion into a centerpiece on each serving plate. Cut the gorgonzola into four small wedges and place a wedge on each plate. Top with poppy seed dressing.

Alternate soup course: Basil and Tomato Bisque or Red Pepper & Smoked Gouda, available at Robert's Seafood Market in four-pound quantities - enough to serve 8-12 people.

Wine pairing suggestion: Napa Valley Aquinas Pinot Noir

Second course
Seared Sea Scallops withSun-Dried Tomatoes & Spinach

12 jumbo (U-10) sea scallops

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup of heavy cream

¼ pound of usalted butter

¼ pound fresh spinach

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes

Clarified butter (for cooking)

Combine wine and cream in a small sauce pan and reduce by half. Whip in ¼ lb unsalted butter. Season with salt and white pepper and set aside to keep warm. Heat small amount of clarified butter in shallow pan. Sear scallops on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from pan and tent to keep warm. Add spinach and sun-dried tomatoes to pan and cook until just wilted.  Put sauce in center of plate, top with spinach and lay scallops on top of spinach.  Top with spinach then scallops. Add rosemary sprig as garnish and serve.

Wine pairing suggestion: Leflaive Les Setilles French White Burgundy


Third course
Sicilian-Style Seafood Pasta

1 lb 26-30 ct. wild Gulf shrimp (peeled and deveined)

20 littleneck clams

20 Prince Edward Island mussels

¼ cup white wine

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Fresh chopped Italian parsley

8 fresh sweet basil leaves

1½ cup marinara sauce

1 pound linguine

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 chopped anchovies

¼ cup diced shallots

2 teaspoons capers

16 pitted black or Kalamata olives

Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Mix minced garlic, chopped anchovies, capers, black olives, red pepper flakes, and diced shallots in a small bowl. Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Add mixed ingredients and sauté about two minutes. Add marinara sauce. Heat to a slow simmer. Cook pasta per package instructions. Add shrimp to sauce.  Simmer shrimp in sauce until shrimp turn pink (four to five minutes). In a separate pan, steam clams and mussels in wine and garlic. Clams and mussels are done as soon as they open (about four minutes). Add clams, mussels and fresh basil to sauce. Pour over pasta and toss. Garnish with parsley and fresh-grated parmesan cheese.

Wine pairing suggestion: Layer Cake Primitivo

Alternate third course: Seared Tuna with Asparagus and Wasabi Hollandaise

Six 8-ounce yellowfin tuna steaks

Olive oil



Lemon juice


3 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Fresh asparagus

Clarified butter or olive oil (to sear tuna)

Fingerling potatoes

Fresh rosemary

Seared tuna: Coat tuna with olive oil. Season each side with salt and pepper and then coat liberally with sesame seeds. Prepare a sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil or clarified butter. Heat on high until it begins to smoke. Put tuna in pan for about one minute per side for rare.

Asparagus (three spears per person): Blanch and shock asparagus. Place spears in boiling water for several minutes and then plunge them into cold water. Put the spears in a sauté pan with a little clarified butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic to re-warm.

Fingerling potatoes (about three per person): Simmer in salted water for about 20 minutes with a little rosemary in the water.

Serve asparagus and potatoes arranged with tuna.

Wine pairing: Cline Cool Climate Syrah


Lemon Baby Cake, cupcake version

By CoCo Pies and Confectioneries Inc.

1 1⁄3 cup unbleached flour

1¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoons baking soda

¼ teaspoons salt

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup whole milk

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

1½ teaspoons pure lemon extract

1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk (at room temperature)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan cups with paper liners. In bowl sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix in the sugar and set aside. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, milk and lemon zest. Heat until butter melts. Add lemon extract. Whisk the hot milk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined. Add the whole egg and egg yolk and whisk until blended. Spoon 3 T batter into each muffin cup.

Bake until a toothpick inserted to center of cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes for standard cupcake. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire rack.

Frost cool cupcakes:

½ cup unsalted butter

1 ½ tablespoons water

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

½  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Wine pairing: Alsacian Helfrich Gewurtztraminer or Camontini Pinot Grigio

Recipes and wine pairings courtesy of Robert's Seafood Market and CoCo Pies and Confectionaries Inc. Wine is available at Robert's; call ahead for availability.

Robert's Seafood Market

1615 W. Jefferson St.


Executive and personal chef Kent Morris



Story published Friday, March 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 2 )

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