I eat fish when it’s fresh, local and of a sustainable variety meaning that that particular species isn’t in any known, imminent danger of depleted stock. Check the Monterey Bay Seafood watch for what is going in in your part of the country (USA). I’ve been really lucky lately to be in places where there has been a lot of great fresh seafood. It takes a bit of an altering of your mind set to eat produce-first instead of recipe-first. Recipes can have you running around to find all the right ingredients which works well sometimes. Other times, like with seasonal eating, it can be way more liberating to go to the market, see what’s there and then make your cooking plan. Don’t worry about anything. Just pick a few things that are of the moment, feel like you could see them together on the plate and inspire you.
At a uptown NYC farmers market yesterday–the first thing I did was head to the fishmonger who fishes himself and brings the fish directly after the catch to the market. There were many fresh choices but his first of the season striped bass was wildly overpriced as was a couple other choices that folks were buying out of familiarity. I noticed a few tiny black bass fillets (arguably my favorite eating fish) but, there wasn’t enough…until I noticed several whole head and tail on ones (scaled and gutted) tucked in the ice. I got excited and especially at the price which was very reasonable. I got 4 of them, about 11/2-pounds each. Next, I chose the mussels which were tiny, wild, beautiful and very well priced especially compared to the clams. I got a load of those. Just next door at the vegetable stand, the corn and fresh shallots, parsley and cilantro stood out to me and just before leaving I noticed a giant head of Chinese cabbage.
When I got home, I was thinking of a Mediterranean angle for the dinner (capers, anchovies, basil etc). But, I had a big piece of ginger in the fridge and was really craving an light Asian-style meal so I worked it though in my head–how each thing could be cooked, consulted a few favorite cookbooks then put them away and went to work. I didn’t want much fuss either.
I slashed each fish and placed them to mingle with a combo of soy, sherry and sesame oil topped with shredded scallion and ginger in a dish. Cleaning the mussels, I was just craving spice so the simple prep there involved mashing the shallots, some sambal chili paste and fish sauce together into a paste. And, an onion was sliced too–some sugar, salt and lime put aside for the finish. Two cups of Jasmine rice went on the stove to steam. Corn shucked, I mashed some butter, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper together and divided it between individual small bowls. All food prep aside, the cocktails were
made in bulk ahead of time watermelon juice (made by pureeing and draining the flesh), ginger, honey, lime was shaken together with Appleton’s rum and stuck in the fridge for guest arrival. Fresh mint leaves made the garnish.
Just before dinner, I started the mussels; sauteed the onions, added the sambal paste, stirred a bit and dumped in the mussels which cooked about 8 minutes before being finished with the salty, sweet and sour flavors. Those went to the table while the fish, stacked in cabbage-lined steamer baskets over boiling water cooked on the stove next to the steaming corn BOTH of which finished just as we slurped up our last bits of salty spicy mussel broth. Dishes cleared and to the table came the fish, rice and corn. The fish was like firm custard, lightly scented by the marinated flavors but only ever so gently. But beware, whole fish is not to be served to any old guest. It takes patience and know-how to pick through the bones and remove the flesh bit by bit from the central skeleton.
I was sure my guests for this dinner could handle it. Otherwise, just go for fillets or steaks instead. And what better guests are there than those who can devour the entire fish AND come bearing the dessert. This included homemade fleur de Lait ice cream (made without eggs but instead with milk and cornstarch) and fresh gooseberry sauce. It was the perfect finish for this meal–a combo of sweet, sour, tangy and mysterious–at least to me, a gooseberry neophyte.