Saturday, February 12, 2011

Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Vanilla-Saffron Sauce

This is the dish that I dread talking about.  Honestly, even with little snafus and mis-reads, everything has gone really well.  Until this dish.  This was a disaster.  I mean, it tasted amazing.  But I almost BURNED THE HOUSE DOWN.  Yeah, I mean that literally.   And that always takes away from any success in how it tasted.

So, when I was piping the cheese, I also heated my reserved mussel stock, tossed in saffron threads and a vanilla pod, and began reducing.  It didn't take too long to get down to a glaze - maybe 30-45 minutes.  I whisked in a bunch of butter.  I COULD NOT get that damn sauce to emulsify correctly - I could tell the pan was too hot, but I had it on the very lowest setting, so I didn't know what was going on.  I later realized that the oven was on and blowing the hot air on the backside of the saucepan, making it BURNING hot, so that's probably why it wouldn't combine right.  Anyways, yeah, broken sauce.

Next up: spinach balls!

Basically I just heated up some zest, wilted the spinach, then separated into 6 portions.  I squeezed the little portions into balls using cheesecloth.  The only hard thing about the whole process was that Brandon was trying to make little man dinner at the same time, and kept running into me holding my burning-ass-hot cheesecloth-filled spinach that was waiting to be squeezed.  And I was in a hurry so that the spinach wouldn't overcook.  Suffice to say, my hands hurt a bit after these.  But the balls were pretty!

Next: parsnip puree

I've never had a parsnip before.  Pureed like this was simply... phenomenal.  I could have eaten this puree all night, especially with the little drizzle of the vanilla-saffron sauce.

First I cut everything into roughly even parts.  Then simmer in cream.  Can't go wrong with that!  Except, somehow I thought they were done before they really were, and scraping the parsnip pieces through the tamis wasn't working, so I had to put them back in the reserved cream to cook more, then back to trying to scrape through the tamis... not so great.  I finally go this done, even if I did end up needing to use the teensiest bit of butter/cream to reconstitute.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention how yummy it was?  Yum.  Yum.

Finally... The. Fish.

I should have known that, with all of the trouble from earlier, something was going to go wrong.  It did.  In so many ways.

First, I portioned out the pieces.  I know they aren't the same size, but they are all pretty close to the same weight.  Then I scraped, over and over and over, to get ALL moisture out of the skin.

When I was done, these things did not have a shred of moisture left.  I was going to successfully crisp the skin, I convinced myself.

I heated up the oil.  I even remembered to dust the skin with a little flour.  I put the first piece of fish in.

It stuck like a mo-fo.  

There was a lot of unhappy swearing.  I tried another.  It stuck too.  (my hand is starting to burn typing this)

So, the fish was cooked and "kissed" appropriately... except not a scrap of skin remained on any of the first three fillets.

I put them on a paper towel lined plate, which I left on the burner next to where I was desperately trying to figure out a way to get the skin to stay.

"Do I smell... burning... hmm???" was my next thought.  I looked over - the paper towel was burning up around my fish.  I grabbed the plate and tried to blow it out.  Yeah, that didn't work.  F*F*F*F*F*F*F!!!  I looked around the kitchen trying to figure out how to not set off the damned smoke alarms and wake angry toddler up.  Sink, water, carefully trying to pick up the fillets so they don't get wet, except they are still burning hot from oil.  I get the fire out, go to put the plate back on the counter, then its on fire again. WTF???  I get that out, realize my other fish is overcooking, grab the spatula and try to pry it up (because the fish skin is sticking again, of course), and manage to splash BURNING HOT OIL all over my left wrist.  More yelping, cold water, trying to get the fish out of the pan.  [sidenote: and a couple of them were real burns, even with ointment on them I still have 3-4 real angry spots that still hurt]

And the best part: after this is over, I look into our dining room... and everyone is still yapping away, completely oblivious to the fact that I just almost set the kitchen on fire.  Its amazing what a couple of glasses of wine can do. 

In my last batch I got ONE piece of fish that actually retained some skin.  So you bet your ass that's the one i'm showing a picture of!

Plated: Broken sauce, not-creamy parsnip puree, and mangled fish skin

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