New ideas for an old preparation
February 15, 2007
For all you folks who follow my recipe column, you know that Sunday dinner is a big deal for my wife, Karen, and me. It is the one day of the week that we are able to spend quality time together. Dinner is usually a two- to three-hour event. We take the time to try new ideas and preparation techniques.
Today’s recipe is an introspective into an old technique with today’s style. In the middle of winter (is it really winter?), the fresh-fish selection switches to deep-water varieties. These fish do better baking than grilling. The kind I’m talking about are of the cod, snapper and grouper families. What we like to do in taking this Old World preparation is bring it to a new level. I call it oven steaming.
You pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and use a casserole dish large enough to hold your fish fillets (I use a 12-inch Le Creuset casserole). Put a half-inch of extra-virgin olive oil in your baking dish. Place the fish fillets in the pan and roll them so as to cover all parts of the fillet with olive oil. Make sure the fillets are half submerged in the oil. On top of the fillets, place finely chopped garlic, sea salt and thinly sliced (almost translucent) shallots.
In grocery stores now there are tomatoes which are hot-house grown, a little bigger than a cherry tomato. What I like to do is take them off the vine and quarter them. Carefully place them on top of the fillets skin-side up. Then on top of the tomatoes place very finely chopped scallions. Get your pepper mill and do a generous topping of fresh-ground black pepper. At the very end, sprinkle a good vinegar over the top. For this preparation, I prefer a Spanish sherry vinegar.
Place the casserole in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. Again, it is hard to give you an exact time, but the fish should be firm to the touch. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish fillets. Be sure to only cover half of the fish with the oil-and-vinegar mixture; do not submerge them. Baking the fish like this will make it flaky, especially the snapper varieties. You do not want the fish to fall apart on you.
When ready to serve, carefully remove the fish fillets from the baking dish and place on a serving platter or dinner plates. I emphasize “carefully.” Do not disturb the herb-and-tomato crowns. Use a utensil such as a large metal spatula.
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Marriage of these flavors in this process with the fish will be sufficient and intense enough to stand on its own. No rich butter sauces are needed.
Baked Fish Fillets
24 ounces fresh fish fillets, approximately 6 ounces per portion
2 teaspoons vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil, approximately 3/4 cup to cover only half of fish fillets
(amount depends on thickness of fish)
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 per fillet
1 T. sea salt, 1/4 T. per fillet or to taste
4 shallots, thinly sliced (almost translucent), 1 per fillet
4 fresh tomatoes, 1 per fillet
4 scallions, finely chopped, 1 per fillet
Fresh-ground black pepper, a generous dusting to taste
I recommend serving either a straight steamed white rice (i.e. jasmine) or a rustic pilaf.
This next recipe is one that Karen and I truly enjoy. We found this recipe in a great cookbook titled, “A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider,” published by Artisan a Division of Workman Publishing Inc., copyright 2001.
French green beans are plentiful just now, and they make a wonderful side dish. Steam them with a spritz of sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Karen and I picked some up at Trader Joe’s Saturday (thank God they are open here now).
I’m sure you will enjoy this fish dish as much as we do. I have also been doing this preparation at the restaurant with rave reviews.
Rustic Pilaf with Madeira
2 to 3 1/2 cups unsalted homemade or canned low-sodium organic chicken broth
(see below for quantity for the grain you are cooking)
1/2 ounce dried wild mushrooms, preferably porcini, rinsed
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup grain, such as farro, brown rice, pearl barley, triticale or Job’s tears
1/4 cup dry madeira or marsala
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 T. balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over moderate heat. Add the dried mushrooms, partially cover, and keep at a simmer.
In a heavy, medium-size, ovenproof saucepan, combine the butter, oil and onions, cover and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the onions have released their liquid, about 7 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat slightly, and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the grain and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, or until coated with oil and lightly toasted. Stir in the madeira and wine and simmer until almost all of it has evaporated, about 3 minutes.
Strain the broth into a measuring cup. If necessary, add water to make the amount of liquid called for, depending on the grain. Pour the broth over the grain.
Cover the grain and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 8 minutes. If there is still liquid left, place the pan over a moderate flame and boil, stirring constantly, until it has evaporated. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for another 5 minutes before serving. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Amount of liquid to use for a cup of each of these grains:
Farro: to cover by 3 inches; replenish as necessary
Brown basmati: 1 3/4 cups
Pearl barley: 3 to 3 1/2 cups
Triticale: to cover by 3 inches; replenish as necessary
Job’s tears: 3 cups
Madeira, red wine and dried wild mushrooms added to the cooking liquid make a robustly flavored pilaf with hearty whole grains such as brown rice, farro, pearl barley, Job’s tears or Japonica rice. You can combine two grains that have the same cooking time, such as farro and barley.
Although this makes an excellent side dish or bed for roasted or stewed poultry, lamb and pork, I like it best as a simple supper, with a grating of aged cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Toscano.
To purchase these grains go to a natural-food store, such as DuBois.
With this meal, I recommend a Spanish dry white wine. Although it would be fruitless for me to recommend specific wineries or varietals, World Market has a constantly changing Spanish white wine selection, or pick the brains of experts at Ben’s Liquor or Aloha Wine and Spirits.
As always enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
• Charlie Abowd is the owner and chef at Adele’s. He and his wife, Karen, have lived in Carson City since 1980. Charlie is a fourth-generation restaurateur.