Just as well that you can't eat too much pork, isn't it? I mean, last week pork belly, and this week...
A yellow sea perch, which research tells me is a kind of carp. You'll pay less than $2 for one of these little chaps at Sea Breeze on Ninth Avenue. As I'm sure everyone knows, Ninth Avenue, below 42nd Street, boasts a short drag of interesting food stores, including an African produce store with curious-looking roots and unusual spices. It's not what it was, as at least two independent butchers have closed down, but there's still G. Esposito & Sons - known as Esposito's Pork Store, even though it's a large, general butcher (a real one, where you can meat cut to order). And there's Sea Breeze, an old-fashioned, bustling, noisy fish market - no boutique presentation, but crabs wriggling in buckets and inexpensive seafood piled high.
The sea perch was a cheap and easy choice for the fish course - you can get your purchases cleaned at the back of the store (don't forget to tip). I then bought a pound of large shrimp for $10. These are actually the smaller of the three sizes of raw shrimp on display, but they're big enough.
Just a step from Sea Breeze, the International Grocery is essentially a Greek provisions store, but has a broad range of rices and pastas, dry beans, grains and pulses, and plenty of spices too. It's a long time since I cooked orzo, so I bought a pound, and then picked up a quarter pound of "soup vegetables" - dried vegetable flakes with a highly concentrated flavor. I thought they could be used in a sauce.
After last week's cheese plate, I thought a dessert was in order, and the International Grocery has some fine, calorific Greek pastries. I bought two baklava; a mistake, because they are weighty portions, and one would have fed four. There's a cheese selection behind the counter, and I bought a slice of kefalotiri - firm, salty - as a foil to the baklava's sweetness. My check was around fourteen dollars, but in addition to a week's supply of baklava, I would use only a handful of the vegetables for this dinner, and not much of the orzo either.
My last stop was Esposito's, a couple of blocks downtown. I swear, I nearly bought lamb, but the pork chops looked so good, and really well priced. Again, not boutique, two-inch thick monsters, but hefty enough, and threaded with fat. Speaking of fat, Esposito also offers strongly-flavored, fatty, smoked slab bacon, and I picked up half a pound. Two chops and the bacon, about $6. There's a produce store a short walk up the Avenue from these stores, but for convenience I picked up zuchinni, lemons and oregano on the way home. Total cost for a four course dinner for two, around $34 with plenty of leftovers.
There are easy ways to prepare zucchini, but I decided to make a pretty plate. With a very sharp knife, I made slices as thin as I could (discarding the messy ones), then sauteed them on low heat by spreading a layer in a very lightly greased pan. By the time the layer was completed, I could start removing the first slices. If you don't have time to waste, just chop them up and fry them.
The shrimp were headless, but the tips of the tails were all I needed, easily chopped off, to make a stock from scratch. Simmered them in seasoned water for twenty minutes or so with a hunk of onion and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Meanwhile I made a very simply blond roux, equal parts of flour and soft butter stirred constantly on a low heat until combined and sticky. I strained the stock into the pan with the roux, blended them together, and started cooking a handful of the dried vegetables in the liquid. They take a while to rehydrate and soften.
Pork chops are so much better after bathing a few hours in oil. I added some fresh oregano, and a good squeeze of lemon. It's very hard to end up with dry, carboard pork if you do this. When you're ready to start cooking, season the chops and sear them fairly gently in a pan. I don't think they need oven time unless they're uncannily thick.
I sliced a couple of rashers of bacon into batons, and threw them into a hot pan to crisp. The orzo was boiled in plenty of water, strained, and the bacon pieces tossed in. Shrimp cook fast in a dry pan, seasoned with rock salt and flipped until pink all over. They can be prepared last.
I served the shrimp with lemon wedges, shell on, and some bread. The perch plate required a little assembly. A mound of the bacon-studded orzo, the filet laid over it, and the vegetable-rich broth spooned over.
The cheese was a great match with the baklava, which itself was excellent - packed with nuts and honey, but not as fiercely sweet as some versions I've tasted. A bottle of cava could be drunk through this meal (and was).
Where to next week? No pork, anyway.