Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Teaching A Man To Fish, SND Style...

My dear friend Christopher, a neighbor and SND Regular-Extraordinaire, had a simple request: Could I teach him how to roast a whole fish? His mother is coming to his place for Christmas Dinner, and she has requested a whole fish.

I love it. I love that he asks, that he wants to learn, and perhaps most of all, that his mother has requested such a specific Christmas dinner. I cannot imagine Tonya telling me what to cook for dinner...

We were both free last night, so he came over at 6:30, and we headed out to my neighborhood supermarket, The Bravo, to get the fish.


Fish at The Bravo?!!

Yes, folks, it's true. Although I am a HUGE proponent of dedicated fish markets (I have 3 favorites on 30th Avenue alone,) The Bravo around my corner has a little fish counter, run by a man named Vishnu.

Vishnu The Fish Man.

I adore Vishnu, because he is basically running his own business within another business, and he takes it very seriously. Generally I have found the Bravo to be über-helpful and responsive whenever I have asked them to stock a specific item (D&G Brand Jamaican Ginger Beer - for Karl), but Vishnu truly goes above and beyond. He will get absolutely anything you ask for if he can. His fish are fresh and gorgeous, he takes great pride in his job, and he is aaaaall about customer service.

Even though this fish market is technically not a small or independent one, I can't help but want to keep him in business. So I shop with him whenever I can.

I had been by earlier in the day to get the ingredients for the Syrian Kibbe Soup, and had scoped out the pretty red snappers - the perfect choice for a first roast fish. When we returned, I noticed that they were a little smaller than I had hoped, but that was OK, we would get two of them.

"Well, Stanley... It's another fine mess you've gotten us into. Hmph."

We brought them home and I became the teacher. I taught Christopher to roast fish using a technique I learned at Babbo, and with fennel oil that I learned at Prune. Frankly, after you have had the whole fish at either on of these joints, you will never have to go anywhere else for it unless you want to make it in your very own kitchen-- which you should!

We washed them and patted them dry, and rubbed them inside and out with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Then Christopher cut some thin lemon slices, about 3 for each fish. I had gotten a medium sized fennel bulb, which we sliced thinly and stuffed into each fish with the lemon.

The rest of the fennel got tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil and put in a separate little roasting pan, and parked in the oven with the fish.

I had some leftover crimini mushrooms, so we sauteed those in butter and a little leftover white wine. (see a pattern here?) Those got tossed into the rice cooker with 1.5 cups of wild rice, to simmer away for about 40 minutes.

I had a little escarole left from earlier in the day, and radicchio from last week, so I bought another head of escarole, washed it thoroughly and tossed it into a hot pan with crispy sauteeing garlic, olive oil and chili flake. Bitter greens with garlic and chili is a standard here-- and with roasted fish it is perfect.

Roasting a fish takes 18-23 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Yup, 20 minutes. That is it. Your fish guy does the hard work of scaling and cleaning-- all you have to do is give it a salt/oil rub, put in a little fennel and lemon if you want, and call it good. You know it is done when the flesh no longer looks opaque, and you can flake a bit off off with a fork.

You pull it out, let it rest a minute, and then use a spatula to pull it onto a plate. If you have oiled it properly on both sides, there will be very little sticking to the pan.

Teaching Christopher to filet the fish completely took me back to the first time I learned to do it, on the floor at Babbo. Boning fish was very popular and very public in that restaurant; at the time, we did it on the center table in the middle of the dining floor -- a little theatrical conceit. I had never boned a fish before, and one of the more senior waiters, Chris Cantanese, walked me through it. As I mangled some poor man's Branzino, intimidated beyond the pale, I was almost crying at the prospect of having to go back to Mario Batali to explain that I had fucked up his fish because I'd lied about knowing how to bone one when I'd been hired. Just then, Chris gently leaned over and whispered, "Tamara -- would you treat a lover like that? Stop a second and touch that fish like you would caress a lover."

It stopped me dead in my tracks. I was completely embarassed, but also instantaneously knew what I was doing wrong. And every fish after that was beautiful, including the harder ones like Dorade.

This Christopher was a far quicker student than I was. Maybe that is because he is meticulous and deliberate in his movements. Watching him on his first attempt was beautiful; it is an art, boning a fish, and when someone is graceful, it is very soothing to watch.

Cut down the center spinebone, flip back the filets to show the spine, break off the tail and pull out the spine bone, set it aside with the head, pull out the finicky little stomach bones, pull out (gently) the top and bottom fin bones, squeeze some lemon, a little salt and a little olive oil with toasted fennel seeds and you are finished.

Dinner was served, much wine was drunk, and a man learned to fish. A great day!


michelle @ thursday night smackdown said...

i tried red snapper for my first go at whole fish (in a salt crust), and fucked that shit up but good.

oh, and i got your email, have been too lazy to write back because i'm so full of xmas cookies, but am totally coming over for dinner.

Tamara Reynolds said...

Oh the snapper in salt crust. So easy to fuck it up-- you are certainly not alone in that.

AWESOME about dinner. I am leaving town tomorrow for a few days. Can we talk after New Years?

Term Papers said...

You had been by earlier in the day to get the ingredients for the Syrian Kibbe Soup, and had scoped out the pretty red snappers - the perfect choice for a first roast fish.Well Its roast fish dish is looks delicious.

Term papers