Monday, March 03, 2008

A Wintry Seafood Dinner

For Fork's birthday last week, we kept with tradition and went out for a fancier-than-usual dinner, this year at The Modern. It was a grand meal, showcasing Alsatian specialties from tarte flambee to liverwurst to apple streudel. We went the day after Fork's birthday, so on his actual day, I wasn't about to chintz out and order a pizza (and that's not because we're lacking good pizza delivery these days).

I planned a special meal at home on Fork's birthday involving many of his favorite foods, including an opening smorgasbord of Saint-Marcellin cheese with crusty baguette, shrimp cocktail, cerignola olives and a bottle of Alabarino. For dinner, I returned to a recipe I'd tried once before, Striped Bass with Lemon, White Wine, and Butter Sauce, from The Flexitarian Table. You could use any firm white fish for this dish: striped bass, cod, hake, halibut or snapper. I did use bass, a nice thick fillet from Whole Foods. The technique is a cinch: you lay the fish in an ovenproof skillet, place cubes of butter and chopped shallot over it, pour a third of a cup of dry white wine and some lemon juice over and around it, and season it with salt, red pepper flakes and sprigs of thyme. You bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, and then transfer the skillet to a 400-degree oven. About 15 or 20 minutes later you've got a moist, rich and deeply flavorful piece of fish.

On the side, I served Braised Leeks au Gratin, a recipe from my mom. I made sure to use top-notch ingredients, since there aren't many in the dish to begin with: sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano, uniformly chopped bread crumbs from a whole wheat boule, Kitchen Basics chicken stock, and big, bright leeks. The result was a warm and cozy meshing of soft leeks and crunchy cheese and bread.

It was a rather nice primer to Friday night's Alsatian feast, if I do say so myself.--S

Striped Bass with Lemon, White Wine, and Butter Sauce

1 1-lb. striped bass fillet
3 T unsalted butter, cubed
2 T finely chopped shallot
1/3 c. dry white wine
2 T fresh lemon juice
Sea salt or kosher salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or tarragon

1. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Lay the fish in an ovenproof skillet that will hold it comfortably (cut it in half if necessary). Scatter the butter cubes and shallot over the fish, pour the wine and lemon juice over and around, and season the fish with salt and the red pepper flakes. Scatter the thyme or tarragon sprigs over the fish.
3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake until a thermometer inserted into the center of the fish registers 125 to 130 degrees, about 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through but still moist. Discard the herbs and transfer the fish to a warm platter.
4. Place the pan over high heat, bring the sauce to a simmer, and simmer until it begins to thicken, 2-3 minutes. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Serves 2 to 3

Recipe courtesy of The Flexitarian Table

Braised Leeks au Gratin

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
3 large leeks
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 c. breadcrumbs (or stale bread)
3 – 4 T fresh parsley, chopped

1. Wash the leeks well, being sure to be rid of any sand that gets trapped in between the leaves. Slice in half lengthwise and cut into 3” logs.
2. Pre-heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and blend well. When the butter has stopped sizzling, add the leeks, cut side down to the pan. Brown well and then turn them over. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the chicken stock to the pan, so that it comes half way up the side of the leeks. Bring the stock to a simmer and then reduce the heat to very low. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender to a knife point.
4. When the leeks are tender, pre-heat the broiler and increase the heat and reduce the chicken stock until it only just covers the bottom of the pan.
5. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs all over the top of the leeks and place the pan under the broiler. Alternately, if you want to take the leeks directly to the table, transfer the leeks to an oven-safe casserole dish and then top them with the cheese and breadcrumbs. Broil until the cheese melts and starts to turn brown.
6. Garnish with chards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh chopped parsley.

Serves 4 as a side dish

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