Ever seen the Food Network cooking show “Chopped” – where contestants are given a basket of ingredients that they have to use all in one dish?
With #ChoppedChallenge trending on Instagram as people found different ways to be creative with home cooking during the stay-home order, The Seattle Times food squad decided to throw our own virtual Kitchen Stadium–like challenge. (Like you, we have more free time on our hands.) And we invited “MasterChef Junior” contestant and Jane Addams Middle School eighth grader Sadie Davis-Suskind to participate.
The challenge was to come up with a dish that incorporated the following four ingredients:
- Tinned fish
- Potato chips (because who doesn’t love chips?)
Just like on the show “Chopped,” every participating chef was allowed to use additional ingredients of their choosing from their spice rack, fridge, pantry or garden. We decided not to enact any rules against Googling for ideas. (So some of us did; some didn’t.) And unlike the TV show, we didn’t force everyone to cook their meal within a specific time period. This was supposed to be fun! And relaxing! And it was!
Read on to find out what our six “chefs” came up with.
- Bethany Jean Clement, food writer/restaurant critic
- Sadie Davis-Suskind, Seattle Times Kids Corner resident chef
- Stefanie Loh, features editor
- Jackie Varriano, food writer
- Yasmeen Wafai, features news assistant
- Amy Wong, features producer
But why should we have all the fun? We bet you, dear readers, are better aspiring chefs than our staff. So come, take “The Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen” challenge.
Using this set of four ingredients, make a dish and tell us how successful you were:
- Canned or frozen green beans
- An egg
- Tomato paste
Avoid the temptation to Google for recipes. Use your instincts. Let your fridge and memories of mom’s or your uncle’s cooking guide you.
Take a picture of your masterpiece and share your recipe with us by emailing both to food editor Stefanie Loh (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tell us what you liked and how you thought your dish turned out — get an objective family member or friend to taste-test it, perhaps — then sit back and pat yourself on the back. You’ve just completed the #ChoppedChallenge. Email us your entry by May 1, and we’ll pick several of the most interesting submissions we receive to run in the May 10 edition of The Mix.
Bethany Jean Clement, food writer/restaurant-turned-takeout critic
Corona-Lockdown Tuna-and-Potato Salad
Thinking too hard about things is not within my corona-lockdown capabilities, so this is the first, most obvious and nice-for-warmer-weather thing that occurred to me. It’s just the tuna salad I always make, augmented with the mandated carrot (adding an ideal little crunch and sweetness — keeping that for always) and some baby potatoes that were starting to get wrinkly, then fancied up with a homemade mayo dressing and topped/served with potato chips. Credit for the excellent idea of using the tuna’s olive oil in the dressing — achieving a rich, tonnato-sauce-adjacent feeling — goes to my colleague and friend Tan Vinh. (Having come up with our Corona-Chopped Challenge ingredients, he withdrew from the competition, whether for fairness’ sake or his usual grumpy individualism or both.)
I used fancy, extra-delicious, local-and-family-owned St. Jude tuna, but any tuna packed in olive oil will do. Also, I cannot recommend Amora brand Dijon mustard highly enough — you can get it on Amazon, but if you’re comfortable now or when the coast is clear (knock frantically on wood), buy indie/local at either Pacific Food Importers (aka Big John’s PFI, just reopened in a new location on Dearborn at Rainier) or Paris-Madrid Grocery (still on Western underneath Pike Place Market). Someone working at the latter once told me that French people who come into the shop sometimes see Amora Dijon mustard and start crying — it’s that good. And in the course of this experiment, I discovered it also makes an amazingly great potato-chip dip all on its own.
You can eat this tuna-potato salad on more potato chips (the crunchiness of which plays nicely with the soft potatoes) or on crackers (super-basic Saltines work well with all the umami here, always salty-side-down so it hits your tongue). Try dipping your potato chips and/or crackers not only in straight Amora, but also into your extra tuna-mayo dressing, which, hey, would also be mind-blowingly good atop some blanched-and-chilled local asparagus, coming our way soon like spears of pure joy. Because lockdown/boredom, I got stuff for a niçoise situation — lettuce, green beans, cherry tomatoes, olives, radishes and eggs (which came out hard- instead of soft-boiled, oh well) — on my most recent venture to the store. (The one-way aisles thing was new to me … what a world.) All those things are also great dipped into your extra dressing, and potato chips should come with every niçoise salad.
See Bethany’s full recipe for Corona-Lockdown Tuna-and-Potato Salad here.
Sadie Davis-Suskind, “MasterChef Junior” alum/Seattle Times Kids Corner resident chef
Crispy Tuna Croquettes: With orange summer salad and malt vinegar Dijon aioli
One of the reasons I feel so lucky to be able to live in Seattle is because of the amazing bounty of local producers allowing chefs to have year-round access to superfresh organic and quality ingredients.
I really love that many Seattle restaurants value farm-to-table, where food is picked at its peak and is bursting with flavors and nutrients. This allows Washington chefs to offer up some of the freshest seasonal dishes in the country!
Hoping to create something for this challenge that said “spring” and offered multiple textures and flavors using as many local ingredients as I could find, I chose to make crispy tuna croquettes with orange summer salad and malt vinegar Dijon aioli.
I used mainly local products, including St. Jude tuna, sold by a small family business that catches all their tuna in a sustainable manner.
I also brought in three (not very) famous food critics to judge my creation: my parents, Rebecca and David, and my teenage brother, Elias.
The general consensus was that the dish was flavorful, the croquettes light and tasty, and the teenager wanted WAY more aioli spread onto everything. I’m sticking with this dish and not changing anything, other than next time maybe making quick pickled carrots to add some bright flavors and more acidity!
See Sadie’s full recipe for Crispy Tuna Croquettes here.
Stefanie Loh, features editor
The Quarantine Roll: Sweet-and-sour tuna, with cucumber, carrots and potato chip crunchies.
What dish has tuna, carrot and vinegar? A sushi roll. Throw in some smashed potato chip bits for texture in lieu of tempura, and voila, here’s a Quarantine Roll to satisfy your sushi cravings if you don’t want to venture out to get fresh fish.
But canned tuna can be fishy. So to disguise the smell and reflavor it, I devised a sweet-sour sauce inspired by Filipino escabeche that came out tasting more like a mild BBQ sauce. Put it all together, and per my independent judge’s (aka wife’s) tasting notes: “I was worried that with the faint hint of vinegar scent, that the vinegar taste would be too strong. But it isn’t at all. There’s a slight sweetness and slight tang to the overall tuna flavor, with a nice variety of crunch from the carrot, chips and cucumber. … The flavor profile rounds out nicely.”
It’s a good intro to sushi if you’re someone who’s wary of raw fish. Oh, and any leftover filling is great heated up and reused over a toasted hamburger bun. Like a pulled pork sandwich. Except – this is “pulled” tuna instead.
See Stefanie’s full recipe for The Quarantine Roll here.
Jackie Varriano, food writer
I have watched “Chopped” on and off over the years. Sometimes in an episode, I’ll think that it’s something I could do in a heartbeat; other times I am totally stumped, awed by what the contestants turn out. After participating in this challenge, I know for sure that I would absolutely fail in the first round. It took me days to determine my recipe because I 100% overthought everything. Even now, I just texted my brother (who is a huge “Chopped” fan) asking if I should cheat and do it again. I’m not sure if refusing to Google anything or even look in a cookbook helped or hindered me. Everything seemed too obvious. Or too far-fetched. Thank god I don’t have an ice cream maker.
I ultimately went with a vegetable stir-fry, served over rice and topped with a soft-boiled egg, crispy chips and some sardines. After digging through my pantry, I found not only the sardines but smoked mussels, smoked salmon, a tube of anchovy paste and tuna. I went with the sardines because they are always in need of a little extra love. Boneless, skinless and packed in oil, these little beauties taste similar to tuna but are just a bit richer. Hot tinned fish wasn’t really sounding good (is it just me?) so I just poured the oil and the fish into a small bowl and broke up the fillets with a squeeze of lime, a little rice wine vinegar, pinches of salt and pepper and a few dashes of soy sauce and sesame oil.
I chopped the carrots with some onion, garlic and broccoli and sautéed with fish sauce and shoyu. I steamed some rice and soft-boiled some eggs. I buzzed the potato chips in my food processor with a little more sesame oil and some rice wine vinegar, then I heated it in a nonstick pan in order to crisp it up again. They were like large, flavor-packed breadcrumbs and provided a nice crunch to the whole dish.
It was a nice, light dinner. My kid ate almost everything, and my husband said he liked the “crunch of the potato chips and the way the flavor of them had changed.” He also said he liked the marinated sardines and thought rice “was a good choice.” He’s no Alex Guarnaschelli, but I’ll take it. But this is the same guy who once served me rice, potatoes and corn on the cob for dinner and when questioned, gave me a very sincere shrug like the trio of starches was the most obvious dinner in the world.
In my opinion, I could’ve been bolder. I didn’t “transform” the carrots, I merely cooked them. Maybe I should’ve pickled the carrots? Added some ginger to the stir fry? Maybe gone with a can of coconut milk with the vegetables? Added some hot sauce? Maybe I should’ve just cracked that can of smoked salmon and made a dip. I guess there’s always next time.
See Jackie’s full recipe for Sardine Stir-fry here.
Yasmeen Wafai, features news assistant
Potato Chip-Crusted Tuna Cake with Pickled Slaw
My family and I love “Chopped,” so when this idea was pitched I just had to participate even though I had never done a food challenge before. When I heard what the ingredients were, the first thing that came to mind was some sort of potato chip-crusted tuna cake. I would have much rather made a tuna melt with a side of chips, but I decided to be more creative. I was really happy with the ingredient choices (shoutout to Tan!) and I was even happier to find I really did have all the ingredients in my pantry!
I’d never made any sort of fish cake before, but I have eaten them, and I know they need a crispy exterior. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching “Chopped,” it’s that basically anything crunchy can make a crust, so I was grateful for those potato chips. The carrots and vinegar were a little trickier. I was originally going to try to make some sort of cooked carrots with a vinaigrette situation, but I decided to make a pickled slaw instead. Ok, I didn’t decide. My mom suggested it and I thought it was a fabulous idea. (While I consulted my family for some tips, and had to look up a recipe for slaw, I’m proud to say that the tuna cake was 100% my idea!)
To spruce up the cake a bit I added some chopped onion, garlic, a tiny bit of jalapeño for a kick (also my mom’s idea) and some carrots for extra incorporation points (that was my brother’s idea, thanks bro!). To help the cake stay together, I soaked some white bread in milk, drained it, then mashed it in with all the other ingredients. Sounds weird, but it worked (score one for the internet). I added some seasoning and formed a little patty.
Before we decided to do the challenge, my editor had the idea of us cooking live while on Zoom. I’m very glad I shut that down fast (sorry, Stef). Dunking the patty in egg wash, flour, egg wash again and then crushed potato chips was not pretty. I almost gave up as I watched my beautiful fish cake crumble, but I persevered, and it somehow worked. I fried that sucker up and what do you know? It wasn’t bad! I topped it off with a little pickle mayo sauce (another great idea from my mom) which turned out to be a great addition both for taste and presentation.
The slaw was pretty nasty. There was too much vinegar and probably not enough sugar. That’s completely my fault, though, because I just guessed at how much of each ingredient to include since I wasn’t making as much as the recipe called for. I also didn’t have fresh carrots, so I used canned, and those are just sad and mushy. I would definitely use fresh carrots if I did this again. I also would have eaten the fish cake before I started cleaning the kitchen because it got cold. Overall, if this was the real “Chopped” I probably would have been the first to go, thanks to my ambitious pickled slaw, but I like to think my cake would have made the decision to let me leave more difficult.
See Yasmeen’s full recipe for Potato Chip-Crusted Tuna Cake with Pickled Slaw here.
Amy Wong, features producer
Tuna Sticks with Carrot Puree
I love cooking and baking, but I am also maybe the laziest person alive, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t always turn out good culinary results. However, that knowledge never stops me from screaming at the TV every time I watch “Chopped.” “There are two minutes left and you’re only starting your sauce NOW???? The absolute INCOMPETENCE!” — this, mind you, comes from the woman who once ate a sandwich that consisted of cheese, lettuce and pickles because I didn’t realize I didn’t have any meat until after I started making it.
After seeing the list of required ingredients, I knew straight away that I’d likely pair the fish and potato chips — using the chips as breading — and the carrots and vinegar, as the carrots could mellow out the vinegar’s acidity.
I already had carrots and vinegar at home, so at the store I picked up some canned tuna and basic potato chips. In an unfortunate turn of events, though, I accidentally left the chips at the store *face palm*. Not wanting to go back, I used a bag of Trader Joe’s Ghosts & Bats Crispy Potato Snacks (their texture is a cross between Pringles and Veggie Straws) that I bought last October and proceeded to forget about for several months. The sell-by date was in January … but chips can’t really expire right??
I tried to use as few ingredients as possible, resulting in some basic fish sticks dipped in a carrot-vinegar puree. I mixed a can of tuna with one egg and a slice of bread, making a cat-food looking mixture for my base. For breading, I crushed up the potato crisps with my hands, but I’d recommend using a food processor to get the pieces as small as possible. This resulted in six fish sticks, which, surprisingly, were not too hard to make. In the meantime, I blended some carrots and vinegar together for my dipping side.
The final product was … more edible than I thought it would be. But they mostly just tasted like giant chunks of tuna. The carrot spread did not add much in terms of flavor, but it wasn’t a terrible addition. I asked my roommate if she would taste them for this story and she said, “You can quote me as saying, ‘No.’” Overall, I had the most fun plating my dish, using a cookie cutter to shape my carrot puree.
I rate this dish: Would eat if I went to someone’s house and they cooked them for me and I wanted to be polite.
See Amy’s full recipe for Tuna Sticks with Carrot Puree here.