Thursday, March 4, 2010

Best Fish Recipe

I know, that's an absurd claim, and I don't really mean it. But I do love a whole fish, and I believe I am approaching a true understanding of their cooking.

Fresh whole fish by their nature cook beautifully, inclined to be moist and succulent. When we catch the delectable Black Sea Bass off Journeyman, we bring them home on ice, already cleaned and gilled. After making sure they are well scaled, we pat the fish dry, roll the fish in olive oil and salt it and put it in a very hot frying pan. (Every smoke alarm in the house will go off.) A couple of minutes later we turn the fish, and after another minute or two the fish, frying pan and all, goes into a very hot oven, as hot as yours will go. Don't cook too long - the backbone should be just pink - but make sure it's done: cut down to the backbone at a thick place.

The fish might be shared by you and another, and you will eat it mostly with fingers and right down to the brain case, which you should feel free to crack and suck. Fantastic! This technique works with any nice round fish, two, maybe three pounds, but the fish must be very fresh.

There is a delicious variation by a local fish restaurant of national renown, Portland, Maine's Street and Company. I don't know Street's exact recipe, but here is the version with which I am currently toying.

In a heavy saucepan using plenty of olive oil I saute a slivered medium onion, a couple of slivered shallots, just a little garlic (one clove), and a cup or 1 1/2 cups of carrots cut to the dimension of a match stick. Add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, or some chopped tomatoes and cook a little more.

To the cooked vegetables I add a bit of basil, maybe a touch of oregano, a nice pinch of saffron, and some vermouth or other dry white wine, and a cup or two of water or vegetable stock. I would not add salt - the shellfish will take care of that. You will have a highly aromatic rich heavy stock, an inch or two deep in the pot

Meanwhile I am frying the whole fish on the stove top, just as in the first recipe but in a dutch oven or frying pan with a tight cover. (The frying is done with the fish uncovered, however.) After the fish has cooked briefly but hard on each side as in the first recipe (but without salting), pour the contents of the saucepan over the fish and cover, so it braises in just an inch or two of liquid, not entirely covered by the liquid. At the same time put in some shrimp, maybe northern shrimp, and some mussels, almost as garnish for each plate but they add their flavor too as they open. Simmer covered until just done, and serve right now.

At Street each diner gets a fish with the very aromatic and rich stock and shellfish, served in an oval copper casserole right from the hot oven where they finish the dish. You could finish it in the oven too, maybe briefly putting the uncovered pan under a hot broiler when it is nearly done, so the fish browns and crisps just a bit.

You can buy a baguette and slice it on the diagonal and fry the slices in olive oil until they are browned on both sides. Put one crouton in each wide soup dish and dish the fish and broth over the crouton. Put a few more fried slices on the table to sop the broth. Some good.

This is a wonderful way to cook fish but the fish must be very high quality. Did I already say that?

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