Posts Tagged ‘fish’

I was very excited when I saw that the Lai family was opening up a new restaurant close to me. I was excited because it was named Grill Fish.

Now there were dreams and fantasies in my head about the coming restaurant. In my head, this would finally be a convenient local source of exquisitely fresh fish (which is rather rare to come by in Philadelphia). Possibly, it would even be affordable. But just the name – Grill Fish – evoked images of the freshest fish, being treated very minimally, grilled all luscious and healthy.

Honestly, there’s no way I was going to get my wish.

But City Paper reviewed their opening, and it sounded like things would possibly be pretty close to my dreams. So exciting!

So I went there this weekend. And I’ll say right now that the food was very good.

But my dreams were shattered. For one thing, the chalkboard with the fresh special of the day? Had not been changed in the five days since the review.

And I realized that I hadn’t read the menu closely enough, and while I thought that under each protein there was a list of 5 or 6 ways it could be prepared, instead they were all ingredients in one dish.

And the two dishes we ordered were fried, not grilled. And so, not showcasing the freshness of the fish.

Right, but how was what we ate? Excellent.

We started off with the Grilled Squid appetizer. And it was exactly what I wanted the rest of the restaurant to be. Tender, mild squid melted with no resistance – and there was a strong note of char from the superficial seared grill marks. The citrus sauce was excellent, and it was a delightful start.

I ordered the Tilapia, which came with a tomato sauce. My dining companion’s comment on the sauce was that this would make an excellent stew, and she was not wrong. Having the sauce over the fish, did soggy the bottom of the light breading, but the taste was excellent and the overall texture mixing crisp crumb coating with a thin layer of mild fish. As much as I enjoyed it, I loved the side of greens even more – but then, I’m a sucker for greens, and these were very tasty.

My dining companion ordered the fluke. Hers was presented with the sauce on the side, so she had a nice, crisp coating all the way through.

We skipped dessert – because I would have liked some of the Vietnamese desserts from their restaurant next door, and caked just seemed off. (and unpriced. If your desserts and daily fish aren’t going to have a price in the menu, then my opinion is that it should be on the board, too)

I should go back and order the whole grilled fish, but since it isn’t giving me the amazing freshness I wanted, then I’m not comfortable compromising on ecological impact (though I am willing to do so for amazingness near me that I can afford).

More about ecological impact.

Tilapia: From the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who publish seafood watch and provide seafood pocket guides:

Most tilapia [Glossary] consumed in the U.S. comes from China/Taiwan (frozen) or Central and South America (fresh). Less than 10 percent of tilapia consumed in the U.S. is farmed domestically.

And from the preparation, I’d guess this was frozen seafood… whose likeliest country practices are listed as avoid because of the high level of pollution and because their systems frequently lead to tilapia spreading to local ecosystems and becoming invasive.

Bronzino: is harder to find data on. It wasn’t listed on the websites for either the Monteray Bay Aquarium nor the Good Fish Guide of the Marine Conservation Society – and that was after I found the scientific name on the Food52 message boards, Dicentrarchus labrax. Having gained prominence starting in the 1990s, I had first heard of it as a fairly green fish. Apparently these fish are suited to wide-ranging aquaculture practices, and people have been trying to make them greener because standard practice isn’t all that good. As far as I can tell with 20 minutes on google…

To end on a happy note, I’ll leave you with a TED talk in which Dan Barber talks about falling in love with a fish. (note: I don’t necessarily agree with his objections to the counter-example’s feed)

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24
May

Fish Pie

   Posted by: Livia    in dinner/lunch, dubious, economics, Food, non-vegetarian, Recipe, soup

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I hardly ever cook fish. It’s not easy here to find a good fishmonger, and then you have a narrow window for getting your fish home still happily fresh. It can’t hang out in your fridge until you have inspiration – it’s a make it right away kind of thing.

And I grew up with a father who did not enjoy the smell of fish, especially as it cooks. So I have little knowledge or practice.

But I have acquired sketchy frozen fish, and I hate wasting food. How sketchy you ask? Well, I’ve been cleaning out my parents deep freeze of things at the very bottom that are too old for them to consider worth eating. And this was in a box labeled with a neighbor’s name, so we were clearly storing it for her – especially since we don’t cook fish. And this neighbor has been dead for about seven years. On the other hand, the freezer has been a very reliable freezer without power outages or temperature variations.

The fish is Oreo Dory – which, wow!, so not sustainable. But it’s a little late to lecture my former neighbor on her purchasing habits, now.

So what do you do with seven year old frozen fish? Apparently, you make pie!

I looked through several recipes, and I ended up combining traditional recipes (with roux) and modern ones with more vegetables. But I had milk nearing its life expectancy, so I knew I needed the roux base to help me use up ingredients.

Fish Pie

In one pot, pour a little less than a quart of milk and add a pound of frozen fish. Also season with a bay leaf and a clove or two. Bring it to just barely simmering for five minutes and then remove from heat and strain the fish from the milk and into a casserole dish. If you added a bay leaf and/or cloves, remember to make sure you remove as many as you added.

In another pot, clean and quarter (and peel, if you so choose) some potatoes (I did three baking-sized ones, but it could have used another potato or two) and boil them in salted water until easy to pierce with a fork.

In a third pot deep skillet, sautee a minced or finely diced onion in lipids of your choice (I used a teaspoon of butter). Now you’re going to make a roux from untoasted flour. You might need to add more fat for the right consistency. Then add the hot, fishy milk to the roux – stirring assiduously – so you get a nice, medium-thick white sauce. Mine was actually much thinner than I wanted, so the trick for adding more flour when your roux is insufficient is to spoon the flour into a small sieve and tap dustings of flour into your simmering liquid (stirring assiduously) until it’s just thinner than you want. Remember that once your gravy has boiled (which it will do as you’re baking) and cooled, it will be even thicker.

I shredded three carrots, the flesh of a mild red pepper, and the zest of one lemon and added them to the fishy bechamel, too.

By now, your potatoes should be soft. Drain them and mash them with butter and milk until you have fluffy mashed potatoes.

Take a moment to salt everything! Salt the bechamel; it needs it. Salt the mashed potatoes; they need it. Maybe even sprinkle a little more salt on the fish in the casserole dish. Oh, and black pepper. Everything needs black pepper, too.

I also added some ground summer savory and a dash of ground thyme to the sauce.

Right, so there’s a casserole dish of fish fillets. Break them up into chunks.

And then sprinkle them with some (white, if you have it) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Pour the sauce over the fish, and swish everything together.

Top with mashed potatoes. Some people sprinkle more cheese on the top of the mashed potatoes, but I didn’t.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, until bubbling. After 20 minutes, my potatoes still didn’t have any color, so I turned on the broiler for another three and a half minutes.

It was surprisingly pleasing.

1) My house did not smell strongly of fish during the cooking process!!! Now were there any lingering cooking odors this morning

2) The fishy milk sauce, which just sounds disgusting, was exactly like chowder. I should have guessed, except that I always think there are extra fresh ingredients and a bit of magic in good chowders.

It was a lot like soup in a casserole dish. On looking back at the recipes, a lot of them called for half as much milk as I used (though how that will fully cover the fish as it’s poaching, I don’t know). And they call for a thick layer of mashed potatoes, whereas I barely had enough to cover.

While the taste was smooth and pleasing (like chowder), there probably is no way to make seven years frozen fish not have the texture of seven years frozen fish – i.e. rubbery and a bit chewy

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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.

Ceviche

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

Cold parts
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

Dressing
1/2 tsp brown mustard
1/2 tsp tamarind sauce/chutney
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar

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