What’s in a name? What’s the risk of having a common name like John James or Tom Jones? Chances are you could be in a watch list of some sort or be mistaken for someone else. People with common names have their share of identity troubles, but people with odd or rare names could very well have the same troubles too. They have to spell or repeat it a few times, and probably get asked, "where are you from?"
The name Michael Smith is simple enough. Straightforward, easy to pronounce, easy to spell. How many Michael Smiths are there? One web site says there are about 40,500 people in the United States with that name. I suspect there are more than that. I wonder how many there are in Canada?
If you add the word "chef" to the name "Michael Smith", I’m afraid there’s only one Michael Smith in Canada: the Michael Smith. He’s been called the roving culinary ambassador, an accomplished Canadian chef who lives in rustic Prince Edward Island with his wife and child. His whitefish provençale which I made two weeks ago was one of many palate-teasing dishes in his book, Chef at Home, (Whitecap books 2009).
I eat fish once a week and cook it in a number of ways, so I wanted to try something new. Michael Smith’s whitefish provençale evoked images of a small Mediterranean family restaurant in a sleepy town that’s lost in the vastness of its shoreline. As I was making the dish, I imagined cooking for a few "accidental" tourists who were eager to sample a fresh catch from the salted seas – a whitefish smothered with black and green olives and tangy capers. Add to that a hint of Balsamic vinegar to spike the taste right before serving.
I wish I had cooked more than one bag of frozen cod (Michael Smith says you can use any whitefish for this recipe) because my brother and I wanted to have it again the next day. The pieces of fish are "showered" with a blend of green and kalamata olives, capers, tomatoes and oregano, producing a sharp, arresting flavor.
This recipe for Whitefish Provençale was plucked out of page 127 of Mr. Smith’s book, Chef at Home:
a splash of extra virgin oil
4 pieces of fresh halibut (if you can’t get fresh fish, I would go ahead and use frozen)
a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large ripe local tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes)
1 large onion, minced
1/2 c of capers, drained
1/2 c of kalamata olives
1/2 cup of green olives
2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
Here are the steps from Mr. Smith:
1. Preheat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil – enough to cover pan with a thin film.
2. Pat the pieces of fish dry and then season them lightly with salt and pepper.
3. Put all of the fish in the oil and sear on both sides, patiently browning them until they are golden brown and beautiful. They don’t have to cook all the way through at this point.
4. Remove the fish from the pan and add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, capers, olives, vinegar and oregano. Bring the mixture to a vigorous simmer, then return the halibut to the pan and lower the heat a bit.
5. Nestle the fillets into the tomato mixture and continue cooking until they are cooked through, just a few minutes longer.
6. Serve the fish with several generous spoonfuls of the tomato mixture.
I will make this recipe again. The capers and olives gave this dish a subtle oomph; I’m sure my fish-loving friends would ask me for the recipe. Michael Smith’s book carries ISBN # 978-1-55285-984-1. It’s available on Amazon and sells for US$30.00.
About Michael Smith
The chef’s credentials read like a Who’s Who. He received the James Beard award for Cooking Show Excellence and hosts three shows on the Canada Food Network which are aired in 26 countries.
Smith graduated with honors from the tony CIA (no, not the Central Intelligence Agency but the Culinary Institute of America) – the institute that many aspiring chefs wish they could graduate from). After he graduated, he joined The Inn at Bay Fortune (Prince Edward Island), one of Canada’s top ten restaurants. He has since collected awards and honors for his creative cooking and television shows. When he’s not cooking, he enjoys windsurfing and collecting maps.
Visit Michael Smith’s web site at: http://www.chefmichaelsmith.ca. Be sure you read his journal about his trip to Egypt and the "ish baladi" – a flatbread that is popular in the country and how watching the bakery that makes it takes it to a back alley and sells it for a penny a loaf. The flour that is used is subsidized by the government and after talking to the bakery staff, he realized how lucky we are out west to be able to enjoy so many bread varieties. In the town that Michael visited, the bread plays a central role in the lives of the town folk. An engaging travelogue! To read it, click here: http://www.chefmichaelsmith.ca/en/home/MichaelsJournal/default.aspx