Sunday, May 6, 2007
One messed-up fish
Tonight was one of those nights I was really glad to be eating alone.
Fort Greene Park's Greenmarket, despite being small in the summer and miniscule in the winter, has a very nice fish stand where they sell a surprising range of stuff, from tender calamari to mussels and clams, as well as several kinds of fish fillets and whole fish, all at very reasonable prices. I'm very fond of seafood, but it's definitely a weak spot in my cooking repertoire because I have a deathly fear of overcooked fish.
Unfortunately, tonight was not the night that I suddenly blossomed into a fabulous fish chef. I wanted to do a simple pan-grilled fish with chermoula sauce, from Claudia Roden's recipe in "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food." But since I'm generally suspicious of fillets, I decided a whole striped bass, just over a pound, would be a good substitute for the cod or hake fillets she recommends.
The chermoula sauce itself was delicious, to the point that I kept dipping a spoon into it and getting intense raw garlic breath, another good reason to be eating alone. So easy, another food processor wonder--I just whirled 1/2 cup of cilantro, 4 garlic cloves, 1 t. of cumin, 1 t. of paprika, 6 T. of olive oil, and 3 T. of wine vinegar (or lemon juice). (Next time, I might use a bit less garlic.)
I then let the fish marinate in half the sauce while I did my laundry, reserving the other half for serving. The problems began when I tried to actually grill the damn thing. I was so excited to use the other side of my reversible grill/griddle, but I didn't heat it enough before laying the fish on. Then, I was so scared of overcooking it, I turned it too soon, ripping the skin off completely, and then I turned it too early again on the other side. I ended up just cooking the top layer on each side, leaving the insides translucent and gray. I didn't even realize what was wrong until I scraped away the top layer and then couldn't get the rest of the fish to fully flake away from the bone. For a moment, I even wondered if this fish had an alien skeletal structure. So stupid. I ended up throwing it back in the pan to finish cooking it through, ending up with a mauled-looking whole fish missing its skin and top layer of flesh, but still edible. I got impatient and started tearing at it with my fingers, even gouging out the tender little cheeks. In the end, the fish was a mess, bones and bits all over the place. I didn't look too good either.
Despite all the abuse, the flavor was great. Bass is such a tasty fish, and in the end, I didn't overcook it. The chermoula sauce didn't overpower it either, as I'd feared it might. And with some bulgur and chickpea salad and some halved radishes, it made a very fresh, spring dinner.
And since I don't have a pretty picture of my dinner, here's a picture of some of the stunning tulips I saw this weekend at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.