Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Soy-Glazed, Asian-Style Chilean Sea Bass

Remember back in high school, when your best friend let you borrow his 3-month old, midnight blue Porsche Cayman so you could impress that varsity cheerleader? As the car knifed through the darkness, it was just you and her winding down the back roads behind your high school. The temperature hovered at a cool 50 degrees; the windows down but the adrenaline keeping you both warm.

You were driving a $52,000 car. You were cocky. But really, you were scared shitless - partly because of the car, but mostly because of her.
*This is not me, my best friend drove an Oldsmobile

At $19.99/lb, Chilean Sea Bass is like that Porsche sports car - miles above the plain and common tilapia (think Ford Focus) and even a step-up from that fresh, wild-caught salmon (think Audi A4). And like that midnight ride, you're going to be nervous. You're driving a Porsche Cayman (cooking Chilean Sea Bass) and it's balls expensive.

Yes I know - this is a big step and you have no idea what you're doing (did you even know how to drive a manual?!?). But trust me - there's a reason why its expensive, Chilean Sea bass is fucking amazing.

Why the High Price?
I like to think that I'm paying that higher price because this filet is going to help me along the way (like the Cayman). The thickness and high fat content make it difficult to overcook. It absorbs flavor like a sponge. It doesn't smell fishy and won't ruin your apartment. And best of all (without having to take a single cooking lesson), it tastes like butter and melts in your mouth.

Matt's Insights into Cooking Chilean Sea Bass
Whenever I cook a thin, flaky piece of fish like catfish or tilapia, I tend to flavor the fish using a combination of dry spices (blackening seasoning, salt and pepper or Cajun seasoning). I usually pan-fry the fish to emphasize the seasoning but also to maintain the delicate flesh.

Because Chilean Sea Bass is such a thick cut of fish, dry spices may not be able to really permeate through the entire fish. With Chilean sea bass, I want the fish to absorb the flavors of the simmering broth; therefore, the infused flavors are going to come from the cooking liquids. I feel like sea bass goes great in Asian-inspired dishes, so for this recipe/experiment I tried to focus on those flavors (in this case - soy sauce, onions, and pickled ginger).

  • 2 6-8 oz pieces of Chilean Sea Bass
  • Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • Something to dilute the soy sauce and create a light broth. (In this case, I think I used a little bit of cooking wine and water. But you could add some butter, half of a squeezed orange, or just water)
  • Fresh scallions - partly for flavor but mostly because I thought they'd look cool for presentation
  • Pickled ginger

Recipe Guidance
I cooked this dish awhile ago and naturally didn't write down a single step in the process. However, I took a bunch of pictures (see the end of the post), so I'm hoping that I can re-create the steps.
  1. Skillet to medium-high, lightly saute the scallions in olive oil
  2. After a few minutes, throw in a few slices of pickled ginger.
  3. Place the fish into the skillet skin side up (The goal here is to lightly-sear the fish before simmering)
  4. After 30-60 seconds or so, add the soy sauce and  another liquid to help light the potency of the soy sauce
  5. Let simmer for a 3-4 minutes
  6. Flip (cover halfway to help the fish cook through) and simmer for another 3-4 minutes* (I can't remember exact times so you may have to run a Google search)
  7. Uncover, check for doneness (it will be an opaque white and it should flake away in nice slices when you cut it with a fork)
  8. And serve
Ideas for Sides
I could see Jasmine rice going well with this dish (especially if you've made a nice broth that can be sopped up by the rice). Add a vegetable (perhaps sauteed shitake mushrooms to stick with the Asian theme) and a white wine (maybe a Sauvignon Blanc).

In all honesty, I've only cooked Chilean Sea Bass a handful of times (and I'm usually winging it). But on every occasion, it has come out great - she will definitely be impressed.

Chilean Sea Bass & Sliced Onions

Olive Oil & Green Onions

Start face down. Add some soy sauce

Flip and Cook Longer

Cover to help cook through

Finished! Now add Sides

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tips for Pan-frying White Fish and a Cajun-Seasoned Haddock Recipe

I just have a slight obsession with my cast-iron skillet. Therefore as a result, whenever I buy haddock (or catfish or snapper or tilapia), I jump at the opportunity to throw my 15lb cast-iron behemoth up onto the stove. And of course, the well-season skillet does wonders for locking-in and enriching the flavors of fish (and meat).

Pan-frying white fish is just another example of simple cooking that looks wayyy too impressive for the actual effort that you've put in. 

Tips for Pan-Frying White Fish
1. Avoid "deep-frying" - There's a time when you can have too much olive oil (there, I've said it!). Be aware of how much oil you're putting into your pan.  A little bit of olive olive oil goes a long way; your cast-iron skillet should already be nicely seasoned and too much oil will make your food too oily.  A tablespoon or so should easily do the trick.

2. Use butter for that golden brown char - Olive oil... coconut oil... avocado oil... All excellent, healthy oils to use while cooking; however...sometimes (well maybe all the time) you just want the goodness of butter.  Don't sweat it, a few tablespoons of butter isn't going to hurt and she won't notice.

3. Use dry seasoning instead of liquid marinades - Salt and pepper. Cajun-spices. Ancho chili rub. Blackening powder. I'm a big fan of using spices (rather than marinades) for delicate white fish. Liquid-based marinades overpower the fish.

Cast-Iron Fried, Cajun-Seasoned Haddock Recipe
Like most of my recipes on this site, most of these ingredients can be swapped out with others. My goal is for you to be comfortable just "winging it" after a few times.
Seasoned with a pre-made, Cajun seasoning

  • Haddock (or catfish or tilapia)
  • Cajun-Seasoning (or a creole or blackening seasoning)
  • Pepper or a dash of cayenne powder (for heat)
  • A few tablespoons of butter
  • Cast-Iron Skillet

Flesh side down at first
  1. Unwrap haddock from packaging, rinse, and pat dry
  2. Heat the cast-iron skillet to medium-high
  3. Season the fish (see the picture below)
  4. Throw the butter into the skillet
  5. Place the fish (fleshy side down, skin side up) into the pan
  6. Cook for about 6 minutes. 
    1. Flip once after 3 minutes or so.  
    2. Cover the pan for a minute or two if you're nervous the fish won't cook. 
    3. Remember, if you've found your baseline cook time, the fish is going to take less time than steak
  7. Remove fish when the center is opaque
  8. Serve with fresh lemon 

Possible Sides
  • Pan-fried okra or fresh green beans
  • Sliced, roasted tomatoes
  • Quinoa or wild, long-grain rice
  • A crisp, cold white wine
That was a terrible display of spatula skills. Good thing this was just for me

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Presentation Matters (...sorta)

I can relate.

Whenever I cook for someone new, I'm nervous.  Presentation is hardly at the top of my list. Remembering her food allergies.... cleaning my bathroom... finding suitable music... not burning myself.... ALL TAKE PRIORITY OVER PRESENTATION!

I know I'm not along here. I mean, guest blogger Katie completely forgot about her smoldering bread in the oven! I doubt she gave a fuck about whether or not the asparagus was perfectly angled at 47 degrees due west of the steak. 

HOWEVER, if you're one of the lucky few that's made it past the gauntlet of things to really remember, feel free to give a little love to presentation. I've outlined how to do it below.

Keys to Presentation Love:

1.  Provide a mixture of color. A while back I wrote a Tip of the Day about avoiding a monochromatic dish. What do I mean? For example check out the two pictures below:
  • Dish 1: Chicken penne pasta with pan-fried tomatoes, fresh Parmesan cheese, and homemade pesto
  • Dish 2: Cipollini pasta with wild caught shrimp served over a homemade seafood broth
  • Dish 1 looks much better, right? Colorful. Vibrant. (Even though the cipollini pasta dish tasted better)

Wow, that is some sexy looking pasta.
What is this UPS uniform day?!? Where's the color?
2. Taking a note from Nordic design, I'm a big fan of simplicity and clean lines. A clean white plate or solid black bowl - Let the food be the star, not the plate.

I bet you forgot about the white plate.
3. Sit at the table (turn off the TV) and attempt to make a decent place setting. You don't have to borrow family heirloom china from Mrs. Robinson in Apt 732 but set the table. Napkins (NO, not paper towels...what are you, 19?), water glasses, wine glasses, silverware - you get the idea.

4. Soft lighting - There's a reason photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days rather than mid-day with a harsh, overhead sun. Soft lighting, candles, or floor lighting makes everyone and everything look better. If you haven't installed that $5 dimmer light switch yet, floor lighting is much more appealing to the eyes than overhead lights. 

    On Chopped, they'll ax you if you forget to zigzag sauce across the plate. And if you're competing on Iron Chef, presentation is worth a third of your final score. These four simple pointers will help you with presentation at Chez Vous. So if you can throw in some presentation love, go for it. Otherwise, don't sweat it. You're already cooking for her and she's already loving that.