Cooking fish is a milestone for me in the land of cooking.
I grew up with a father who did not like fish, not even the smell of it in the house. And since I’ve moved out on my own, I’ve mostly stuck with cheaper meat options (with a goal price point of $2/lb or less – though, yes, I’ve been reconsidering my ethics lately). Also, Philadelphia is not known for its seafood, so I don’t know of a reliable fish monger near me.
But I just happened to be out today in the vicinity of a reputable source of seafood – Ippolito’s – so I stepped in and professed my cluelessness. I did ask for something a little more challenging that a salmon steak, so I ended up selecting a beautiful 18″-ish striped bass. And since I don’t have fish-worth knives at home, I did ask them to filet it for me, but to also include the head, tail, and bones for stock.
Turns out that I only ended up with the meat. I’m a little disappointed, but I suppose that any day I call ahead and go there asking for a bag of random fish scraps, I’ll be able to get them for fairly cheaply… and I wasn’t going back today because it took a lot of looking to find a decent parking spot that wasn’t on a snow emergency route.
So after I did the dishes and cleared a workspace, the first thing I did was open up my packet and fondle my meat. Erm… I mean notice that there weren’t any miscellaneous bits. And then I pulled out only three tiny bones that the store missed. And, yes, my eyes had been right – the flesh felt smooth and supple and there was no fish smell even this close.
So, being an amateur, the first thing I did was to cut the filets down so that one was 4 ounces and the other 3.5 ounces. I did that by trimming off the thinner flaps on the side and down by the tail so that the filets would have a more even thickness. I have no idea whether that is acceptable in formal fish circles or not, but it seemed logical to me.
I then had about 2.5 ounces of very fresh fish to play with.
So I diced the fish finely, slightly less than 1cm x 1cm x .5cm, and I did not bother with removing the skin except in a couple spots where it wasn’t cutting easily.
I added half a jalapeno, minced. And then I added about 2 tablespoons of finely minced red onion. I stirred that about and tasted it.
Oh, right, I was missing the acid – that’s key to ceviche. So I pulled out a lemon and a lime and ending up that I wanted to use the lime. The juice of a whole lime seemed a bit too much after I added it. Hmmm…
I also minced up some fresh flat-leaf parsley (I love the small salad spinner I got for my birthday!). And I added some salt, pepper, and a chunk of gingerj.
Now I think I’ve covered all of the basics of ceviche, but it still wasn’t tasting any good, even after marinating for half an hour. So I started looking around my kitchen – ah, yes, the persimmons.
I diced up one, and even with their odd skin/flesh texture, the persimmon was the perfect answer. Well, I suspect any particularly strong fruit. But instantly (well, with even more salt, too) the flavors came together and the ceviche was tasty.
So I spent the rest of the day googling recipes for striped bass, calling my mother for advice, and seriously pondering the fail-proof parchment method, which showed up in such a timely fashion on my twitter feed.
And then I sucked it up and reminded myself that I had managed to find exceptionally fresh fish, so I’d better just trust my ingredients.
Pan Seared Striped Bass
So I took out a good, thick skillet, and I heated it up fairly high (medium-high, actually, so not as hot as for steak) with a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan.
When hot, I took my nice, even-thickness 4 ounce filet, and lay it down (I put the skin down first). And then I didn’t let myself look at it or poke at it to monitor.
I just waited 3 minutes. And then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the up side, flipped it, and sprinkled the skin side, too.
Ever so slightly more than three more minutes later (I don’t know why I held off, but it seemed right), I served up onto a plate a perfect piece of fish with nice browning on both sides, easy flake, and just oozing juicy tenderness.
I’d say it was as good as the best fish I’ve had in a restaurant. Wow!
I still have one more filet, so I’ll see if I can duplicate my results and call it skill/intuition or if it was just beginner’s luck.
And how did I manage not to poke at the fish? By assembling a salad for the side. This was my second run with this basic salad frame, but the first one was too acidic, so I was more generous this time with the more oily ingredients.
Persimmon & Arugula Salad
2.5 ounces of arugula, washed – and spun!
2 persimmons, cut up and scattered artfully
a dozen dry roasted almonds (unsalted) roughly broken up with a knife
2 ounces of semi-soft mild flavored cheese
1/2 tsp brown mustard
1/2 tsp tamarind sauce/chutney
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar