Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gone Fishin'

I did have a few minor restaurant dalliances this week, which I won't get too far into, since this post is primarily about cooking and not dining. Lunch with a friend (and on a friend) at Mary's Fish Camp yielded a perfectly sufficient lobster roll, though the hot dog bun could have used a bit more butter. It was literally bursting at the seams with lobster, certainly not something a New Englander complains about. Also, I finally found steamers in New York. Real steamers. Fragile and white-shelled steamer clams that need the sand washed off before you dip the suckers in butter. The portion was too small, but I'll live. I'll likely take another trip to Mary's in the future for a whole fish (they had several varieties, both roasted and flash fried). Lobster roll is one of those things you order when someone else is footing the bill.

Yesterday, I decided to tackle a fear of my own and prepare a whole fish at my house. I've never done this before and I disagreed with a lot of the recipes I read. I didn't want to cook en papillote, because I wanted a crispy skin on the fish. I also didn't want to blast it at 400 degrees because I had chosen fennel, a thick and fibrous vegetable, as one of the stuffing elements. I decided on a 350 medium-slow roast and a finish under the broiler.

One of the great things about living in Astoria is the fresh fish markets. I asked for a whole red snapper and was shown several. I settled on a 2lb fish (generally a pound lighter after de-boning) and asked the monger to clean it for me (gutting and de-scaling, basically). The same red snapper that went for $5.99/lb went for a whopping $14.99/lb at the fish market at Grand Central. Astoria is chef-friendly; Manhattan is not. Back home, I slit the skin so it wouldn't rip and stuffed it with things I had in the fridge: garlic, thyme, the fennel, nicoise olives, halved grape tomatoes, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The remaining items I placed around the fish in a baking dish. Then I let the whole thing rest in the refrigerator for a few hours.

I cut red bliss potatoes in half and covered them with thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil in a separate baking dish. These went into the 350 degree oven twenty minutes before the fish. Once the fish went in, it was only twenty or so more minutes until the whole lot was ready for the broiler (larger fish obviously take longer; we were basically waiting on the fennel). I finished the fish off with some amontillado before browning it to deglaze the pan. The broiler browned the fish and potatoes, which were completely up to my high standards.

This fish was among the most aromatic and freshest I've had in a long time. We drank mint lemon-limeade with it, our own creation, made from a dozen lemons, a few limes, and a simple syrup made from cane sugar. My regret is that the mint turned brown. In the future, I might try blanching the mint first to preserve its color.

But all in all, this was a resounding (and resoundingly inexpensive) success.

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