School of Fish

Dinner:  October 30, 2007

I spun out another one of our old standbys last night – crispy fillets of white fleshed fish (this time, black sea bass) over tomato-fennel broth. This is so easy to prepare, and I love how well it works in the heat of summer or on a chilly fall evening.

Wine Pairing: Our friends at Thirst recommended the 2005 Olivier Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes to go with this dish, and we both agreed it was a really gorgeous wine – a beautiful gold color, very crisp and flinty, with an almost toasted-buttery aroma.

Playing with my food

Dinner:  September 6, 2007

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.

weekend eats (and drinks)

weekend eats (and drinks)

As my husband points out, we’ve had quite a bit of excitement over the last several days. As a consequence, we didn’t do our usual weekend “food safari,” so our meals this weekend were sort of thrown together on the fly.

On Thursday night, I stuffed a whole black sea bass with sliced lemons and baby fennel, and we grilled it along with skewers of sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes. Mike brought home gorgeous shoulder chops from Tamarack on Friday, which we grilled and ate with my mustard and dill spiked potato salad and grilled asparagus. The Rioja was a stellar recommendation from Troy at Vine Wine.

On Saturday, after a day spent in the hot sun extracting the kittens from the neighboring yard, we were both pretty wiped out, so I decided to follow the lead of some fellow food bloggers and make a garlic scape pesto. It was delicious and easy, and something I look forward to doing again while scapes are in season.

We adopted the last two kittens out late Sunday afternoon then headed back out to our yard to spend some quality time with the mama cat. I had forgotten to take anything out to thaw for dinner, but we were able to waterbath some Flying Pigs sausages (Mike’s Grandma’s Hot Italian), and we threw those on the grill with a red bell pepper. I sauteed a bunch of red chard and tossed some cannellini beans with minced green garlic, chopped fresh parsley, and lemon vinaigrette to go alongside – a tasty meal but not terribly photogenic.

Now that things have settled down a bit, I’m looking forward to getting back in the kitchen and taking advantage of all of the delicious things the season brings.

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little heads

I try to make our meals as visually appealing as they are tasty, but sometimes things just don’t work out as I had hoped they would. On those occasions, I usually just don’t write up the meal or post the photos, but Mike has encouraged me to do so – it’s a truer representation of what really goes on in our kitchen, and putting it out there is a good way for me to talk about what worked and what didn’t, as well as to work out what to do differently next time.

When I was surfing around yesterday trying to gain some new ideas for the black sea bass we would be having for dinner, I came across this recipe for Black Sea Bass en Papillote on Leite’s Culinaria. We had leeks and some gorgeous heads of baby cauliflower at home, so I decided to use those along with some artichokes to accompany the fish.

black sea bass

I decided against packeting the fish and vegetables; I love the skin of black sea bass, and I wanted to get it really crispy, so cooking it in a really hot pan was the way to go. Our filets were on the small side, so I decided to give them a very light dusting of flour before putting them into the hot pan, hoping this would help them hold together better. I scored the skin, seasoned the filets on both sides with kosher salt and black pepper, and set them aside for a bit while I worked with the veggies.

I sliced and cleaned two leeks and placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet. I quartered three of the heads of assorted baby cauliflower (leaving the outer leaves attached), and added a box of thawed frozen artichoke hearts (next time I am definitely using fresh ones, but we can’t get them in our neighborhood, and I had these on hand). I seasoned the vegetables with salt and pepper, tossed them with a bit of olive oil, and placed them into the oven to roast – 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

We generally use our cast iron skillet for searing just about any sort of meat, fish or fowl, but I decided to try searing the fish filets in our nonstick skillet instead. I got it really hot, added a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and added the fish filets (which were lightly coated with flour) skin-side down. The fish cooked for about 3-4 minutes on the first side, then for another minute or two on the second side, and they did get gorgeously crispy.

I drained the excess oil from the pan and deglazed it with a cup or so of white wine and a blob of Dijon mustard; I added a couple of tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves and whisked in a tablespoon of butter off the heat. I plated the black sea bass filets on a bed of the roasted veggies and spooned the sauce on top. I was incredibly pleased with the flavors and textures here, but unfortunately, everything looked sort of… brown.

Dinner:  May 8, 2007

Now, I’m not a huge fan of boiled or steamed vegetables, but I think one of those methods might have been the best way to keep the vibrant colors of the cauliflower intact. However, I was so happy with how the fish turned out that I will probably use this method for cooking delicate filets going forward; and though the little mustard-wine pan sauce I made was tasty, I’m not convinced the fish needed it – perhaps just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some chopped fresh herbs will work better. Live and learn!