Not Your Ordinary Breakfast

Posted: April 07, 1999

Breakfast for Trish Morrissey is a non-event that happens anytime between 9 and 11 a.m. Most times it takes place shortly after she arrives at work, and usually is nothing more than a cup of hot coffee and a power bar.

"I can't eat breakfast when I get up," says the executive chef of Philadelphia Fish & Co. "I normally don't eat breakfast foods. I probably don't really eat until 3 or 4 in the afternoon."

And then, most times, it's a huge salad with a hunk of grilled fish on top, splashed with an appropriate vinaigrette or nothing more than a squeeze of lemon.

"Yes," she says, smiling - Morrissey smiles easily - "that's usually my daily routine."

Well, almost always. She does admit to exceptions. "It's a funny thing, if we are running tuna burgers I'll eat two in a day. I love them. I love tuna burgers."

Morrissey, 29, not only enjoys her tuna burgers for their own fresh, expandable flavors, but finds that they can be a lot more satisfying than a veggie burger. A tuna burger, she says, can give the same gratification as eating a meat burger.

And they fit in with her basic concept of cooking: Simple, clean flavors that can get even jaded taste buds to pay attention.

Morrissey's background has given her the advantage of being exposed to a world of flavors. As an Army brat she spent time growing up in places such as Panama, Germany and Italy - sort of a fusion childhood.

"I was the youngest in the family," she said, "and nobody wanted to hang out with me. My grandmother was with us; she's from Italy, and an amazing cook. I spent a lot of time with her in the kitchen."

Her Italian-born mother enjoyed cooking as well. Morrissey recalls that she would go shopping at the open markets and prepare foods representative of where they were living.

"I remember in Panama [when she was about 5], my mother made empanadas. I thought they were the most amazing things. Each place we moved to, I had a new favorite. My mom absorbed every culture. She would dig in and learn about the food. She didn't go to the base commissary. She went into town to do the food shopping."

But even with such a food background, a culinary career was not Morrissey's first choice. She studied fashion design at Drexel University: "Actually, I hated it in school. I had had a romantic vision of design and wanted to design costumes for the movies. School was a reality check."

So after Drexel, she waited tables and tended bar for a number of years. Then Morrissey started cooking part-time and doing banquet service at Korman Suites.

"My friends used to to push me: 'You should cook full time.' Then I went to the Restaurant School. At first, my mom wasn't too keen on that. She wanted me have a 9 to 5 office job."

After graduation, she worked at the Ritz-Carlton, where she had interned as a student, and became chef of the Dining Room - the first woman to do so. Then it was Philadelphia Fish & Co., in Old City, where owners Kevin and Janet Meeker were on the cutting edge of mesquite grilling and seafood from the Pacific Rim.

Now, she says, her mother is very, very proud and excited about her career, but worried that she works too hard.

That's probably because wherever Morrissey goes or whatever is going on in her life, she's thinking about food: "If I weekend in New Orleans, I might have a Cajun influence for a month. And I recently lost a large amount of weight and sometimes crave Mexican. When that happens, I might have a Southwestern influence for a week."

The diversity she brings to the restaurant can be seen in her tuna burgers. Three favorites she prepared last week were a Horseradish Dijon Tuna Burger, a Mediterranean Tuna Burger, and a Southwestern Taco Tuna Burger.

"The tuna burger with horseradish and Dijon we run quite a bit. Whichever burger it might be, I wanted each one to be very bold and distinctive."

The burgers, she says, can be chopped by hand as well as ground in a food processor with the grinder attachment. She does not recommend grinding the tuna by pulsing the food processor, because it's a tricky procedure and can easily turn the fish into mush.

Whatever way you chop it, the key is to do it the day you're going to make the burgers. And she recommends putting the patties into the refrigerator for an hour before cooking and to make sure that the grill is well oiled.

"It's always good to have a heavy-duty spatula to work with. And keep the fish cold while working with it. You can also do the patties in a nonstick pan like you would a meat burger"

She says you can substitute salmon for the tuna, but you may have to use some bread crumbs to hold the patties together, because salmon has a softer texture than tuna.

One other thing: For a hearty breakfast, a tuna burger makes a great understudy for a power bar.

Tuna Taco Burger 1 cup fresh or defrosted frozen corn kernels

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Tabasco sauce

1 1/2 pounds fresh tuna, skin off, hand-cut in 1/8-inch cubes

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 small jalapeno, minced

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil, for basting

4 corn taco shells

Grape Tomato Salsa (see recipe) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss corn with chili powder, oil and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Roast corn in the oven until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Combine tuna, corn, cilantro, cumin, coriander, onion, jalapeno and mayonnaise in a bowl and mix well. Season mix with salt and pepper and form into 4 patties. Be sure they aren't too thick and can fit into the taco shells. Refrigerate until burgers firm up. Brush each burger with oil. Cook burgers over medium high heat on a grill or stove top in a nonstick pan. Medium rare to medium is recommended - about two minutes per side.

Serve in taco shells with Grape Tomato Salsa and taco toppings of your choice. Makes four servings.

Nutritional data per serving: Calories, 445; protein, 43 grams; carbohydrates, 25 grams; fat, 20 grams; cholesterol, 86 milligrams; sodium, 206 milligrams.

Grape Tomato Salsa 1 1/2 cups diced plum tomatoes

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 small jalapeno, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste.

Combine all ingredients and serve. Makes enough for four servings.

Nutritional Data Per Serving: Calories, 26; protein, 1 gram; carbohydrates, 6 grams; fat, 0.3 gram; cholesterol, none; sodium, 9 milligrams.

Mediterranean Tuna Burger 1 1/2 pounds fresh tuna, skin off, cut in 1/8-inch cubes

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup chopped calamata olives

1/2 cup sun-dried tomato paste (see note)

1/4 cup roasted garlic, smashed into paste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Vegetable oil for basting

4 pita pockets

Combine first seven ingredients. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Form into 4 patties and refrigerate for one to two hours.

Brush each burger with oil. Cook burgers over medium high heat on a grill or in a nonstick pan. Medium rare to medium is recommended - two to three minutes per side. Serve in pita pockets.

Serving suggestion: Toss salad greens with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve in the pita with the burgers. Makes four servings.

Nutritional data per serving: Calories, 559; protein, 53 grams; carbohydrates, 49 grams; fat, 17 grams; cholesterol, 105 milligrams; sodium, 1,440 milligrams.

Note: For sun-dried tomato paste, soak 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain off water and save it. Puree tomatoes in blender with 2 tablespoons light olive oil and some of the soaking water, until tomatoes form a paste. It's OK if the paste is chunky.

Horseradish Dijon Burgers 1 1/2 pounds fresh tuna, skin off, cut into 1/8-inch cubes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

Vegetable oil, to brush on burgers

Combine all ingredients except vegetable oil in a bowl and mix well. Form the mixture into 4 patties and refrigerate for one to two hours. Preheat grill or a nonstick saute pan to medium high heat. Brush patties lightly with vegetable oil and cook to desired temperature. Medium rare to medium is recommended - 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve on pumpernickel with a crisp slaw and Dijonnaise. Makes four servings.

Nutritional data per serving: Calories, 227; protein, 41 grams; carbohydrates, 2 grams; fat, 5 grams; cholesterol, 80 milligrams; sodium, 170 milligrams.

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