I was driven to distraction yesterday by all of the buzz about Mark Bittman’s tomato paella – thinking about the combination of rice and tomatoes, saffron and smoky Spanish paprika, my mouth was watering. I didn’t want to put aside the black sea bass I had originally planned to cook on Wednesday for yet another night, so I decided to incorporate the flavors of Bittman’s tomato paella into a sauce for my fish and serve rice alongside.
I sautéed about 1/4 cup of diced red onion and a couple of fat garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil until they were soft and fragrant, then sprinkled on some pímenton (I added it about 1/4 teaspoon at a time, and ended up adding a full teaspoon total). I had some red and yellow bell peppers that I had charred on the grill, then peeled and marinated in Sherry vinegar and olive oil, so I added those to the pan along with their liquid. I poured in the remainder of the fresh plum tomato juice I made earlier in the week (about a cup worth), added some salt, a pinch of saffron and a splash of white vermouth, and let the mixture come to a boil. I tasted the sauce and adjusted the seasoning, adding a little additional salt and Sherry vinegar to balance the flavors, and then I pureed the mixture in a mini-chopper until it was smooth. I set the sauce aside while I pan-fried the fish as I usually do (seasoned with salt, dipped in a light coating of flour and cooked in a hot cast iron skillet with a bit of olive oil until crisp and golden). We didn’t have any Bomba rice in the pantry, but we did have short-grain sushi rice, and it was a decent stand-in. I packed the cooked rice into a ramekin and turned it out onto each plate, spooned a bit of the sauce around and served the fish on top.
I was incredibly pleased with how the sauce turned out – the smokiness of the pímenton, the brightness of Sherry vinegar, the sweet tomatoes and roasted peppers and the aromatic saffron were all present but in good balance, and they were an excellent accompaniment to the mild and meaty bass. I still plan to get out my old paella pan and try Bittman’s recipe, but this was a great way to satisfy my craving for those flavors in the interim.