Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce

Today's recipe is Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce. It's my first real entree from TFLC, so I had to buy a few groceries to stock my meager kitchen. I also had to purchase some new tools to be used in preparation of this dish.

First stop: Whole Foods. I got the produce and black sea bass here. I got the black sea bass whole and had the fishmonger fillet them for me. I also asked him to reserve the heads and bodies so that I could make stock later.
Second stop: Sur La Table. I bought a tamis and a chinois. A tamis is a drum-like device that strains and purees. You push soft stuff through it and it just purees it very finely. The texture is really even and luxurious. The chinois is a fine mesh strainer that will come in very handy for TFLC as almost every recipe in the whole cookbook requires you to strain some liquid. They say that every liquid traveling from one container to another is strained. Whew!

My friend Jorge graciously offered to help with the preparation of this dish. We ride the subway together in giddy anticipation. We're two Japanese schoolgirls.

The Bordeaux for the evening, from my private cellar: a 2000 Bordeaux from Pessac-Léognan. I decanted this of course.

First step, the mussel stock. I prepare a whole shallot and two cloves of garlic.

Mise en place for the mussel stock:

I added white wine, the shallot, thyme, garlic, and some mussels to a large stock pot, and let it heat up.

As each mussel opened up, I removed it and put it aside. We ate these while we cooked. They were a great light snack.

When all the mussels were done, I strained the liquid into a bowl. Here is the finished mussel stock.

Next? The spinach balls. First I cooked three strips of orange zest in some oil. I love orange zest, whether it be in sauteing or drink-making. There is so much flavor in orange zest, so much more than the fruit itself. Adding an orange twist to a cocktail radically changes the taste, aromas, and composition of a drink. The same goes for cooking. I was already knew this would come out great just from the first step alone.

I wilted the spinach in the delicious aromatic orange oil.

Once the spinach was tender, I discarded all the liquid and the zest, and wrung them dry in paper towels to form six dry balls of spinach. These went into the fridge while we worked on the rest of the dish.

Next -- the parsnip puree. We peeled and weighed some parsnips...

The parsnips were cut into sections and cooked in cream, water, and salt until soft.

After they were done cooking, I strained them and reserved the cream. Jorge used the bottom of a plastic utensil to push the parsnips through the tamis.

The completed parsnip puree. It has the consistency of mashed potatoes (just like what the book said!).

Next, we make the sauce. I took the mussel stock, and added the seeds of a vanilla bean as well as the pod, and saffron. God, it smelled so good. Vanilla bean is one of the most heavenly smells I can tell you. As I was making this sauce, it filled my apartment with the most glorious aroma.

I added the cream and the TEN tablespoons of butter slowly...Dear god. This dish screams French.

The sauce is hued so bright yellow. It's gorgeous. My apartment smells like saffron and cream and vanilla. What a great combination: unexpected yet complementary.

The last step for the sauce was emulsifying the sauce with an immersion blender. I didn't have one so I used a whisk.

Now, we cook the black sea bass. I got the fish from the seafood department at Whole Foods. Aren't they gorgeous? I did my best to get all the moisture out of the skin, just like the book instructed me to do, including "squeegeeing the fish skin." I was pretty happy with how dry the skin was when I started up some oil on the stove.

Another cool technique the book taught me (aside from the aforementioned -- how-to-get-fish-skin-really-dry-so-it-crisps technique) was how to deal with fish that want to curl when you fry them. As soon as I put the fillets in, they started curling. I wanted the fish to make full contact with the pan so it would crisp the skin nicely. The recipe suggests using another pan or a lid of a pan to "set" the fish. Indeed, it worked.

Look how well they are behaving now!!!

Time for plating! First, a spoonful of the saffron-vanilla sauce...

Then a spoonful of the reheated parsnip puree..

The spinach balls were already reheated and warming up in the oven, so I added a spinach ball on top...

Lastly, Dylan (who arrived just before we cooked the fish) added a fillet of black sea bass on top of each plate.

The completed plate. One of my friends remarked that they look like muppet eyes. I guess they do, in retrospect.

The culinary team!
Chef Lawrence (not pictured)
Sous chef Jorge (left)
Sous chef Dylan (right)

Thoughts on the dish: I thought this was a real winner.

Sauce: The sauce was extremely aromatic. While cooking, it filled my apartment with the greatest aroma. It was also really tasty. The saffron and vanilla flavors came together well, and who doesn't like butter and cream? Dylan licked his plate clean of the sauce.

I actually made more mussel stock so that next time I can make this sauce easily. It's not that difficult and it was a real home run.

Fish: The fish was beautifully cooked and tender. The skin, crispy. I was worried the skin would stick to the pan and be lost, but that didn't happen luckily.

Spinach balls and parsley puree: Great accompaniments to the fish and sauce. They worked perfectly.

Overall, everyone loved it. Since the recipe was for six and we had three, each of us had seconds. Bellies full, we drank more wine and cocktails until the hour grew late and we all started to nod off. I think Dylan may have passed out on the floor from the food and wine (food coma!), but I don't really remember. I definitely had a coma myself.

I'm happy it was a success and I'm even happier that I had help for my first "real" recipe in the book!

Black sea bass from Whole Foods
Parsnips, spinach, mussels, and other produce from Whole Foods
2000 Pessac-Léognan from Oak & Steel

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