When things go well in the kitchen. But not necessarily perfectly.
It was a really delicious dinner, although it wasn’t quite the dinner I had intended.
I thought it would end up looking more bright green than brown-green. I think I’ve pretty much gotten the crispy fish skin technique down, but now I have to know when to stop, or at least turn down the flame at the right time.
I’d say that the fish itself was superb, and cooked à point, which is an expression usually applied, in this country at least, only to steaks, an impreciseness which fits nicely with the meaty appearance of the bass fillets this time. Even the sauce was really tasty, in spite of having taken on a bit of an unintended brown butter effect.
In an earlier post I wrote that ‘the technique’ is from a page I found on line, ‘Perfect Seared Fish‘, written by Hank Shaw, who describes himself as a former line cook, but who is much more than that.
I didn’t have any micro sorrel or shallot blossoms this time, so I improvised a substitution for the main ingredient of the sauce: garlic scapes and celery stem and leaves, and I held the garnish. I think the decision worked out perfectly, except, maybe, for the brown part.\
- one 14-ounce striped bass fillet from Pura Vida Seafood Company, removed from the refrigerator, the thick and the thin sections each halved, salted just a little, allowed to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, then the skin side scraped with a butter knife to remove excess moisture, both sides patted dry afterward with a paper towel, an 11-inch well-seasoned French steel pan heated above a high flame and a tablespoon, or a little more, of Mac Nut macademia nut oil from Whole Foods Market poured into the pan, swirled to cover the bottom, and allowed to get hot, all 4 fish pieces placed skin side down inside the pan, which was immediately jiggled to be sure that the fish wasn’t sticking, the flesh side of the fillets salted, the heat turned down to medium-high, the bass pressed down lightly with a spatula for 30 to 60 seconds, to ensure that the skin browns evenly, then cooked without moving them for 3 or 4 minutes, the thinner pieces temporarily removed after only about one minute, set aside and returned before they were all to be flipped, at which moment the pan was first jiggled again, to see that the filets moved easily, the bass cooked skin side up for another minute, maybe a bit more, then removed to warm plates; the heat having been turned off before that minute was up, a tablespoon and a half of butter was now added to the pan, swirled so that it melted swiftly, followed by a generous helping of barely-blanched garlic scapes, from Berried Treasures Farm, cut into very short lengths, along with some chopped fresh celery leaves from from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, the pan stirred with a wooden spatula, the sauce immediately poured onto the 2 plates next to the fish already resting there
- twelve ounces of small red thumb fingerlings from Willow Wisp Farm, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, a pinch of Robusto Smoked Salt from The Filling Station in the Chelsea Market, fresh winter savory leaves from Keith’s Farm, a small amount of crushed home-dried habanada pepper, arranged cut side down on a large Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, roasted at about 375º for 20 minutes or so, tossed around on the pan, arranged on the plates and sprinkled with chopped parsley from Keith’s Farm
- the wine was a Portugal (Dao) white, Casa de Mouraz, Dao Blanco ‘Encruzado’ 2016, from Flatiron Wines
I think that simple assemblages of a good fresh or dry pasta and good ingredients, sometimes, but not necessarily always fresh ingredients, are among the most satisfying meals of all, in the preparation and in the eating, and this was one of the best.
It’s the sort of meal that asks for no real skill, no precise ingredients, no strict amounts, no fat wallet, no long preparation, no strictures on hotness, and neither meat nor fish.
The quality of the ingredients is the one essential, and, along with several other choice bits, this dinner benefited from these beauties:
- almost 9 ounces of Afeltra 100% Grana Italiano Penna di Rigata [sic] from Naples via Eataly Flatiron, cooked al dente, drained, then tossed into a large heavy antique high-sided copper pot in which less than one-inch-long sections of 4 garlic scapes from Berried Treasures Farm had been slowly heated in flavored cooking fats reserved from the preparation of the previous day’s meal (a bit of roughly-chopped rocambole garlic and thin scallion, both from Keith’s Farm, that had been heated in a little Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil and a bit of Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ until softened) adding a little additional olive oil, straight, until the scapes had begun to soften, then 5 or 6 thinly-sliced, very pungent yellow seasoning peppers (I’ve forgotten their proper name) added to the pot and stirred, and about 3 quarters of a cup of reserved pasta cooking water gradually added, stirred over a fairly high flame until the liquid had emulsified, seasoned with sea salt, and 14 of “the best cherry tomatoes” from Stokes Farm, halved, slipped into the mix and stirred with the pasta before some torn leaves of Gotham Greens Rooftop, basil from Whole Foods were added, the pasta arranged inside shallow bowls, olive oil drizzled around the edges, scattered with more basil before some Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano D.O.C. from Whole Foods Market was grated on top of everything
- the wine was an Italian (Veneto) white, Il Conte, Pinot Grigio 2017 from Flatiron Wines
[the last image, of a 5th century BC Olympiad depicted on a black figure vase, is from a review of Pergolesi’s ‘L’Olimpiade’, with the same Metastasio libretto Vivaldi used, as did some 50 other composers]
In many ways, this meal was almost the opposite of the one we enjoyed the day before: I wrote about Tuesday’s dinner that there were no contrivances or adornments, and this time nothing but the micro green garnish was left on its own.
In fact last night I may have gone just a little too far with the embellishments (the fish in particular, looking on the plate like a stuffing, couldn’t fully display its own flavors), although we both had to agree that everything was really delicious, and Barry said these may have been my best turn at eggplant ever. Yay Turkey!
a combination of both a little roughly-chopped rocambole garlic and thin scallion, both from Keith’s Farm, heated until softened in a little Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil and a bit of Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ inside a large heavy antique oval copper pan over medium heat, the alliums removed and discarded (or saved for some use the next day), a little more oil and butter added if necessary, the flame raised to medium-high, and, once the pan was quite hot, four 4-ounce sea perch (aka redfish, or rose fish) fillets from American Seafood Company that had been rinsed, dried with paper towels, and seasoned with sea salt and a little freshly-ground black pepper, added, seared, skin side down first, for about 3 minutes (the skin should be nicely golden and ideally fairly crisp by then), turned over and cooked for another minute or so, the fish removed and placed on 2 plates that had been kept warm, either in a warm oven or tented with aluminum foil, then 4 ounces of roughly-chopped blewit mushrooms, foraged by Windfall Farms in Montgomery County, were introduced to the skillet and sautéed until slightly undercooked, more oil added once along the way as necessary, one chopped habanada pepper from Norwich Meadows Farm added near the end of that time, the mushrooms finished by lowering the heat a bit and tossing in short segments cut from 2 Berried Treasures Farm garlic scapes that had previously been blanched, and continuing to cook for roughly one minute, the allium and mushroom mixture divided between the warm plates, 2 perch fillets placed next to each ‘bed’, both fish and mushrooms finished with a generous squeeze of an organic Whole Foods Market lemon, lemon wedges placed at the side of the plates
five beautiful small orange Turkish eggplants from Lani’s Farm, cut horizontally into 3 slices, mixed with a little olive oil, one large finely-chopped Rocambole garlic clove from Keith’s Farm, 6 or 8 pitted and halved Kalamata olives from Whole Foods Market, sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, pan-grilled, without the olives, on an enameled cast iron ribbed pan over a brisk flame, turning once or twice, rejoined by the olives once they were done, kept warm above a very low flame while the fish was prepared, sprinkled with chopped peppermint leaves from Keith’s Farm, arranged on the plates, and more mint added, finished with a drizzle of olive oil
- slices of an excellent She Wolf Bakery sourdough from the Union Square Greenmarket
- the wine was a Spanish (Catalonia) white, Celler Frisach, Garnacha Blanca ‘Terra Alta L’Abrunet’ 2017 from Flatiron Wines
[image of Viktor Ulmann from ClassicFM]
No micro greens of any kind were harmed in bringing this dinner to the table.
It was a pretty simple meal. I wanted to make it so because I didn’t feel up to any challenges last night, and because, having decided the centerpiece on the plate would be a terrific small beef steak and, after that, that the principle vegetable would be Brussels sprouts, I knew there wouldn’t be any need for contrivances or adornments.
But the steak was a very special steak; the sprouts, while perhaps not out of the ordinary otherwise, were accompanied this time by one complex dried chili pepper; and the tomatoes, included mostly for their color, happened to be “the best cherry tomatoes”, by both the farmer’s testimony and my own.
- a single small (eleven and a half-ounce)grass-fed, grain finished culotte, or picayna steak from Sun Fed Beef in the Union Square Greenmarket, brought to room temperature, halved crosswise, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, seared briefly on the top, or thick, fat-covered side inside an oval enameled heavy cast iron pan, the other, long sides cooked for 2 or 3minutes each, then the ends and the narrow bottom side seared, each very briefly, the steaks removed from the pan, perfectly medium-rare, arranged on 2 warm plates, each topped with a pat of defrosted ramp butter that I had made last April using some small, first-of-the-season woodland ramps from Lucky Dog Organic, a bit of juice from an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, and some Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’, the steaks then allowed to rest for about 4 minutes
- a couple dozen Brussels sprouts from Lani’s Farm, the little cabbages liberated from their stalk moments before, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus one whole hot dried Sicilian peperoncino from Buon Italia (it can be seen at 12:30 in the picture at the top), roasted inside a medium size unglazed seasoned Pampered Chef pan until the sprouts were partly brown and crisp on the outside (at which time they taste surprisingly sweet and somewhat nutty)
There really isn’t much reason to describe this meal in a Food Blog post, since I’ve assembled similar versions of each of these 2 courses so often in the past, but there are always differences, some subtle and some not, and they don’t always end up tasting as good as they did this time.
The antipasto, which began the meal, was simple enough. We like dried beef, and even when it’s not spectacular, we consider it a treat. While we both thought this particular imported bresaola wasn’t as spectacular as the domestic we usually enjoy (both normally come from Eataly’s shelves). The arugula however was really wonderful.
- four ounces of sliced Bresaola Organic Bernini from Uruguay (so maybe it’s proper name would be charque, via Eataly Flatiron, drizzled with a good Campania olive oil (Lamparelli O.R.O.) and a bit of juice freshly squeezed from on organic Whole Foods Market lemon
- a handful of very peppery baby arugula, or rucola, from Windfall Farms, dressed with more of the same olive oil and lemon, plus Maldon salt, and freshly-ground black pepper
- slices of ‘El Bario Sourdough’ from Hot Bread Kitchen
The main course, only a little more complex than the appetizer, was a prepared mushroom ravioli, one of the several kinds of filled pasta that I buy to place in the freezer as a standby entrée, for the nights when I may not have have the time or the energy to create a meal from scratch. It’s incredibly convenient, and the pasta doesn’t even have to be defrosted.
We’re never disappointed with the dishes it inspires. The ‘trimmings’ really make this dish, and this time they included garlic scapes at the start with a delicious fennel blossom garnish to finish.
- ten ounces of Rana portobello-mushroom-and-ricotta-filled ravioli rounds from Eataly Flatiron, boiled al dente inside a large pot of well-salted water for 2 minutes, drained, slipped into a large vintage tin-lined copper pan in which two slice-sectioned garlic scapes from Berried Treasures farm, a small chopped portion of a medium hot bright red aji rico pepper from Alewife Farm, and a bit of a dried habanada pepper had been briefly sautéed (warmed, basically) in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a bit of pasta water added and the mix stirred over a moderate to high flame until the liquid had emulsified, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, a dozen or so pitted Gaeta olives from Buon Italia stirred in, the contents of the pot placed in shallow bowls, finished with a drizzle of olive oil around the edges, a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, and a garnish of scissored flowering fennel from Lani’s Farm
- the wine was a California (Lodi) red, Jacqueline Bahue Lodi Cabernet Franc 2017, from Naked Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Restless, Endless, Tactless – Johanna Beyer and the Birth of American Percussion Music’ (wow, where has Johanna Beyer been all of our lives? her music is really wonderful, and so ahead of her times)