It looks like an entire summer garden made it onto that plate. It also looks every bit as baroque as the music we were listening to while enjoying it.
Last night I was looking for a way to cook bluefish in a way other than that I have for a while, but my time was running out, and I did have all of the ingredients I would need to prepare it ‘Greek Style’, and that’s the route I took once again.
Aside from the excellence of the basic recipe (little more than a few words that I found in a 2008 Chowhound discussion I uncovered a little over a year ago), I think Friday’s very easy decision is also redeemed by the fact that the individual ingredients will vary every time I pull them up, so it’s never the same meal.
This time, one of those variations was in the size of the fillets that I found in the market, and to which my fishmonger Paul Mendelsohn had pointed me: They were much smaller than any I had worked with before, so the fish tasted both fresher, or lighter, and sweeter than usual, and there was a less of the ‘blue’ flavor, what some people will describe as ‘fishy’, but which I happen to enjoy.
There were also lots of vegetables.
- four small (4 1/2-ounce each) bluefish fillets from Pura Vida Seafood Company in the Union Square Greenmarket, rinsed, rubbed with olive oil and a little Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, placed inside a vintage oval tin-lined copper au gratin pan, sprinkled liberally with a very pungent dried Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia and a finely-chopped piece of an ahi rico pepper (medium spiciness) from Alewife Farm, covered/layered with thin slices of one small red onion from Norwich Meadows Farm, thin slices of three different heirloom tomato varietals, also from Norwich Meadows Farm, and more than a tablespoon of chopped fresh oregano buds, from Norwich Meadows Farm as well, plus 9 pitted Gaeta olives from Eataly and several thin slices of a Whole Foods Market organic lemon, the pan placed inside a 425º oven and baked for about 8 to 10 minutes, the fillets arranged on the plates and garnished with micro red basil from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- almost a pound of medium size Norland potatoes from Berried Treasures Farm, halved, mixed in a bowl with cut sections of what appeared to be 2 small-ish (4 ounces each) examples of second-growth fennel bulbs, if that’s a thing, from Neversink Farm, olive oil (not too much), sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, the potatoes and the sturdiest pieces of fennel arranged inside a favorite large shallow-sided unglazed extremely well-seasoned Pampered Chef oven pan and cooked in the same 425º oven for about half an hour, with the remaining pieces of fennel tossed into the pan at various times in the cooking process, depending upon their thickness, the vegetables then arranged together on the plates and garnished with flowering dill from Rise & Root Farm
- the wine was a Portuguese (Alentejo) white, Esporao Alandra Branco 2016, from Garnet Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Le Parnasse Français’, with the music of Jean-Féry Rebel, Jean-Marie Leclair, François Couperin, Michel Blavet, performed by Musica Antiqua Cologne, conducted by Reinhard Goebel
It’s not that each is so photogenic, but that there are always multiples.
They’e also simply, literally, delicious.
Here the cleaned blowfish are still in the fishmonger’s tub:
Now home, on the counter, after breading:
And just after being placed in the pan of hot olive oil:
I never deep fry anything, although this recipe comes pretty close, at least for me. Even though the idea is to prepare the pan with only an eighth to a quarter inch of oil, I always regret using even that much oil to prepare any entrée.
But I have to say it works.
- twenty small blowfish tails, or a total of 18 ounces (which was less than half the size of those I cooked the last time) from Pura Vida Seafood Company, dredged in a little less than a third of a cup of a local Union Square Greenmarket-purchased whole wheat flour from The Blew family of Oak Grove Plantation in Pittstown, N.J. that had been seasoned with plenty of sea salt, fresh-ground black pepper, and about half a teaspoon of freshly-ground whole yellow mustard seed (which is very difficult to find; my jar of McCormick brand came from the 7th Avenue Westside Market), pan-fried in olive oil about an eighth to a quarter of an inch deep inside a 13 1/2″ heavy cast iron pan, turning them over once (cooking less than 2 minutes on each side), by which time they had turned golden), served with quarters of an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market
- a few small Jamaican burr cucumbers from from Norwich Meadows Farm, sliced into thick disks, sautéed in olive oil until lightly browned, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, the heat turned off, the cucumbers mixed with a some chopped bronze fennel from Quarton Farm, and a large handful of tiny ‘wild’ tomatoes (‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’?) from Stokes Farm tossed in, both cucumbers and tomatoes arranged on the plates enclosed by the ring of blowfish, garnished with more bronze fennel
- a little bit of wonderful red watercress from Dave Harris’s Max Creek Hatchery
- the wine was a California (all over California) white, David Marchesi Provare California Sauvignon Blanc 2017, from Naked Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Musica Nova: Harmonie des Nations, 1500-1700’, with Jordi Savall directing his ensemble Hespèrion XXI
(there weren’t enough hats to go around)
I spotted the lobster-red blur under the ice at her seafood stall, but Jan told me the two small cooked claws were all they had left that day of their catch of homanus americanus. That’s all I needed to hear: I could take home the lobster and a smaller than usual portion of some other seafood, and either combine them in a single course or serve them separately, the lobster worked into an appetizer.
I decided on the appetizer, after I found this recipe on line: a ‘lobster salad’ although the proportions of the ingredients called for were for something with 10 times more lobster than I was able to take home that day.
four small Jamaican burr cucumbers from Norwich Meadows Farm, unpeeled, sliced about 1/4″ thick, each used as a disk to support a dollop of a mix of chopped lobster from the fish monger’s only traps off eastern Long Island (after cracking the shells, I ended up with only 1 5/8 ounces meat, which equated to about $16 per pound); a couple tablespoons of a really good locally-prepared mayonnaise, Sir Kensington’s, plain, Classic Mayonnaise (made by ex-Brown students, with headquarters in SoHo); a bit of both a sweet habanada pepper and and a mildly-spicy aji rico pepper, both finely chopped; sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper; and a pinch or two of dried fenugreek from Bombay Emerald Chutney Company(purchased at the Saturday Chelsea Farmers Market) [I think I should have included some lemon zest, but the mix was really good exactly as I had improvised it this time]
The main course was a house classic, except for the addition of tomatoes this time to the familiar baked dish of potatoes and cod. I think I added the tomatoes mostly because of the relatively small amounts of both fish and potato that I had available this time, but it worked really well, and the display was pretty spectacular.
They look, disconcertingly, a bit like strawberries, which may have been appropriate, since the farm from which both the potatoes and the tomatoes came is ‘Berried Treasures’, named for Franca Tantillo‘s specialties, strawberries and potatoes.
The dish was assembled in 2 stages.
- two 5-ounce cod fillets from P.E. & D.D. Seafood in the Union Square greenmarket, cooked using the basics of a recipe from Mark Bittman which I had come across many years ago: the cod washed and rinsed, placed in a platter on a bed of coarse sea salt, with more salt added on top until the pieces were completely covered, then set aside while a bed of potatoes was prepared for them by slicing lengthwise into 3 or 4 sections each (to a thickness of roughly 1/4″) a total of 10 or 12 ounces or so of La Ratte fingerling potatoes (including 3 red thumb fingerlings from Willow Wisp Farm to make up for the small number of La Ratte), tossing them in a large bowl with olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a large section of a large orange/gold home-dried Habanada pepper (bought fresh last fall from Norwich Meadows Farm), arranging the potatoes, overlapping, in a rectangular glazed ceramic oven pan, and cooking them for 25 minutes or so in a 400º oven, or until they were tender when pierced, but not fully cooked, and then, the cod having already been thoroughly immersed in many fresh changes of water to bring down the saltiness (the soaking process somehow gives the fish more solidity, which can be easily felt while it’s being handled it at this point; it’s kinda sexy), draining and drying the fillets before placing them inside the pan on top of the potatoes, drizzling them with a little olive oil and sprinkling them with some freshly-ground black pepper, then blanketing them with thin slices of several heirloom tomatoes (each the same kind, mahogany and red in color) from Berried Treasures Farm, the tomatoes also seasoned, lightly, and the pan returned to the oven for about 8 or 9 minutes (the exact time depends on the thickness of the fillets), removing the fish with a spatula (or, much better, two spatulas), along with as much of the potatoes as can be brought with each piece, and arranging everything as intact if possible onto the plates, returning to the pan for the remainder of the potatoes, the servings garnished with chopped bronze fennel from Quarton Farm
This menu seemed a little premature for September, game and roasted squash being pretty much an autumn meal, but fortunately the weather cooperated (I wouldn’t want to cook or serve this dinner in warm weather), and the the sun actually haded cross the celestial equator and headed south exactly 24 hours earlier.
I want to add that despite its appearances, and while it may be hearty, no butter was harmed in the making of this meal.
- two whole unboned pasture-raised certified organic quail from Abra Morawiec’s Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport, Long Island, weighing in at a little more than 8 ounces each, washed and dried both inside and out, each cavity stuffed with a quarter of an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market and a half share of the following mix: 4 rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm, peeled and bruised a little, the leaves of 2 fresh thyme sprigs, also from Keith’s Farm, the leaves torn from one branch of fresh rosemary from Willow Wisp Farm, and one and a half tablespoons of a house Portuguese olive oil from Whole Foods Market; the quail was then rubbed with olive oil and sea salt, trussed with string (basically just seeing that the legs were held together and the wings kept pressed against the breasts), the birds set aside and allowed to come to room temperature (allowing at least 20 minutes from the refrigerator altogether), at which time they were quickly browned on all sides inside a small heavy enameled cast iron oval pan and, using celery stalks to keep the birds breast-upright while they roasted (alternatively, using sections of fennel stems, or whatever suitable vegetable might be available) inside a 425º oven for about 18 minutes, but most importantly, until an instant-read thermometer registered 150º (the meat should also feel slightly firm, and the juices run pale pink when the bird is punctured with a skewer), the birds removed from the pan when done and set aside on a warm plate to rest for about 10 minutes, loosely tented with foil, while the sauce was assembled, beginning with discarding the celery stems and placing the roasting pan on a burner above medium heat, adding a little chicken stock or wine (I used a sherry, Lustau, ‘Papirusa’ Light Manzanilla Sherry, from Sherry Lehmann), deglazing the pan by scraping any browned bits off the bottom, bringing the liquid to a simmer, then pouring it into a small pot or sauté pan with about half a cup of a (hopefully inexpensive) balsamic vinegar, increasing the heat to high and boiling the liquid down to a syrup, or until it is able to coat the back of a spoon (it will look a bit like a chocolate sauce), the quail served on the plates with the sauce drizzled over the birds
- one 5-inch black futsu squash (I can’t praise these bumpy, heavily ribbed Japanese members of the moschata family highly enough) from Alewife Farm, scrubbed, halved, the seeds removed, cut into one-inch wedges, brushed lightly with olive oil and rubbed with sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and one large section of a golden dried habanada pepper, (I actually tossed it all inside a bowl this time, to make it quicker and easier) arranged on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned ceramic pan and roasted in the 425º oven on one side for 15 minutes, turned onto the other side and allowed to roast for 15 more minutes, removed from the oven and transferred to a large copper sauté pan in which 2 cloves of Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic had been gently heated in a bit of olive oil along with some roughly-chopped sage from Echo Creek Farm
- one bunch of broccoli rabe, or rapini, from Willow Wisp Farm, washed and drained several times, trimmed, very roughly chopped, and, with much of the water still clinging to the greens, wilted inside a large enameled cast iron pot in which one large halved Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic clove had been heated in a little olive oil until softened, finished with sea salt, freshly-ground pepper, arranged on the plates and drizzled with a little more olive oil
- the wine was an Oregon (Willamette Valley) red, Chris Baker Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2017, from Naked Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Les Elements: Tempetes, Orages & Fetes Marines’ (The Elements: Tempests, Storms, & Celebrations of the Sea), with Jordi Savall conducting Le Concert des Nations